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What Is A Rheumatologist And What Do They Do?

Girl holding her wrist in pain.

What Is A Rheumatologist And What Do They Do?

If you have or know someone with arthritis, then you will have encountered a rheumatic condition. Arthritis is a prevalent rheumatic condition, but it is by no means the one only one. Many rheumatic conditions affect the musculoskeletal system, including joints, cartilage, tendons, ligaments, muscles, and bones. Some serious rheumatic conditions affect the immune system and can damage vital organs such as the kidney, lung, heart, and nerves. 

If you and your primary care doctor suspect you might have one of these conditions, your doctor should arrange for a referral to see a specialist, a rheumatologist.  Before you arrive for your first appointment, you will want to learn what a rheumatologist specializes in and how they can help figure out what’s causing your symptoms.

Here’s what you need to know about a rheumatology specialist.

What Is A Rheumatologist?

The rheumatology field specializes in conditions that affect the musculoskeletal system that results in joint pain, swelling, inflammation, and diminished range of motion. The rheumatology field also specializes in conditions that are due to immune system dysfunction attacking healthy body parts and organs, known as autoimmune conditions. 

The American College of Rheumatology describes rheumatologists as specialist doctors who undergo additional training to learn how to diagnose and treat musculoskeletal and certain autoimmune conditions.

After medical school, and three-year general internal medicine residency training, a doctor who wants to be a rheumatologist does another two-year training called a fellowship to learn about autoimmune and musculoskeletal conditions and how best to treat them. After the doctor passes their board exam, they are now called a board-certified rheumatologist.

What Exactly Do They Treat?

There are over 200 musculoskeletal and autoimmune conditions that are considered rheumatic conditions. Some are very common such as osteoarthritis and gout, and some are very rare such as certain types of vasculitis and systemic autoimmune diseases.   

Rheumatology specialists diagnose and treat many musculoskeletal and autoimmune conditions. These include but are not limited to:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Psoriatic arthritis
  • Gout
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Tendinitis and bursitis
  • Lupus
  • Sjogren’s syndrome
  • Myositis
  • Vasculitis

When To See A Rheumatologist

Joint pain from time to time is normal. Anyone can experience it for various reasons, especially with strenuous physical activity. However, if it persists despite rest, self-care, and home remedies, or involves an unusual pattern of joints and you have other symptoms, it may be time to see a rheumatologist, or at least start by asking your primary care doctor about a referral. They will refer you if they suspect a rheumatic condition. If you have a family history of such conditions, there may be a case for referring you to a rheumatologist sooner.

Your First Visit To A Rheumatologist

Rheumatologists are expert diagnosticians, meaning they are skilled at putting “puzzle pieces” together and helping identify a diagnosis. These puzzle pieces often involve reviewing prior lab tests, x-rays, and notes from other doctors. Rheumatologists will often take extended time interviewing you and notating your history looking for clues and will do a comprehensive head to toe physical exam. The rheumatologist then formulates a differential diagnosis, which is a list of potential suspected conditions that may be the cause of your symptoms. Then the rheumatologist will recommend testing which may involve labs, imaging, or evaluation with another specialist if indicated, to help narrow down the differential diagnosis and identify the cause of your symptoms.

What Happens After the First Appointment?

The rheumatologist will analyze all of the testings that were done from the first visit. Some individuals are not identified with a rheumatic condition, in this case, the rheumatologist can help you by brainstorming additional non-rheumatic differential diagnoses and point you in the right direction which may involve a different specialist to pursue or additional testing to diagnose the cause of your symptoms. 

If the rheumatologist does identify a rheumatic condition, they will explain the condition, treatment, and prognosis in a simple to understand way, and then formulate the best plan of action. Rheumatologists treat rheumatic conditions with non-surgical management, meaning prescription and over-the-counter medications, and recommended physical therapy, exercise, and special diets when indicated. Certain conditions require injection and infusion medications. Sometimes the rheumatologist may recommend “watchful waiting” and repeat testing rather than starting medication right away. The rheumatologist will work together with you to determine what is your best course of action. 

Final Thoughts

Rheumatic conditions can be complex and challenging to diagnose. The more you know about the rheumatologist before your appointment, the more prepared you will be to ask questions and get the answers you need about your condition. 

Here at Lomibao Rheumatology & Wellness Care, we pride ourselves on being friendly, welcoming, open-minded, and comprehensive rheumatology experts to help you navigate your condition and provide you the best means to regain the function and quality of life you deserve. We’re happy to answer any questions you have about Rheumatology!

How to Schedule an Appointment

You can schedule an appointment with Dr. Lomibao by calling our office or filling out our Request Appointment form located on our website www.lomibaorheumatology.com. Lomibao Rheumatology & Wellness Care is a full-service rheumatology clinic with an on-site infusion lounge and telehealth services available for established patients. Lomibao Rheumatology & Wellness Care is currently accepting new patients, and we welcome you to join our family by contacting us today!

Lomibao Rheumatology & Wellness Care – Caring for the community we are so privileged to serve!

Categories : rheumatology

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