What is a Rheumatologist?
A rheumatologist is a doctor who provides the diagnosis and treats arthritis and other diseases of the joints, muscles and bones. A rheumatologist has four years of medical school, three years of internal medicine training and at least two years of specialized rheumatology training in a fellowship program. Upon completion of their training, they must pass a rigorous exam conducted by the American Board of Internal Medicine or the American Board of Pediatrics to be certified. Rheumatologists who are certified by these boards after 1990 are required to complete an extensive recertification process every ten years.
What do rheumatologists treat?
Rheumatologists treat arthritis, certain autoimmune diseases, musculoskeletal pain disorders and osteoporosis. There are more than 100 types of these diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, gout, lupus, back pain, osteoporosis, fibromyalgia and tendonitis. Some of these are very serious diseases that can be difficult to diagnose and treat.
When Should You See a Rheumatologist?
If pain in the joints, muscles or bones is severe or persists for more than a few days you should see your primary care physician. He or she will refer you to a physician. The importance of early diagnosis in arthritic conditions, particularly rheumatoid arthritis has been proven, but often symptoms are difficult for non-rheumatologists to diagnose.
What Will Happen When I See the Rheumatologist?
Rheumatologists are specially trained to do the detective work necessary to discover the cause of your symptoms. He or she will usually ask you to explain the history of the problem and will undertake a physical examination. Additional investigations such as blood tests, x-rays and scans may also be needed.
Once a diagnosis is made, your rheumatologist will explain the nature of your illness and what you might expect in the future. This is an important step, particularly for illnesses that might affect you over a long period.
With an accurate diagnosis and a shared understanding of your illness, you and your rheumatologist can work together to design a treatment program aimed at managing pain, reducing inflammation and ensuring your quality of life.
Depending on the nature of your illness, you may need to see your rheumatologist regularly for ongoing management. Alternatively your primary physician may treat you, with the rheumatologist on hand for specialist advice.
How Will My Condition Be Treated?
As your rheumatologist will explain, there is a number of treatment options available including:
- Physical Therapy
- Drug Treatment
- General Supportive Care
He or she will select the best treatment combination for you, depending on the exact nature of your illness and your other individual needs. In treating and managing your illness, your rheumatologist will work closely with your primary physician as well as other skilled professionals to ensure you get the best possible care.