You’ve developed joint pain—visited a general practitioner (GP)—and now you’ve been referred to a rheumatologist. If you have no idea about what the specialist does or why you’re being referred to them, don’t worry! You’re not alone.
Most patients visit an emergency room (ER) before seeing a specialist. GPs lack in-depth expertise to pinpoint the actual problem in niche cases. Specialists like rheumatologists treat over a hundred niche conditions and can diagnose better. If you’ve been referred to one—you probably have a rheumatoid condition like arthritis, lupus, gout, etc., that needs to be confirmed and treated.
Let’s discuss what rheumatologists do and why you’ve been referred to one.
You’ve been referred to a rheumatologist because:
- You might have some form of arthritis
Arthritis is the leading cause of recurring joint pain and stiffness, affecting more than 350 million people worldwide. There are over 100 types—osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis being the most common.
As the treatment varies with each type, rheumatologists are the specialists who will diagnose you and prescribe the right treatment.
- You get repeated bouts of joint pain, fever, and swelling with no confirmed diagnosis
These are common underlying symptoms of rheumatic conditions. If you have them, early intervention by rheumatologists is necessary to help you manage your condition. They may recommend blood tests and other procedures to diagnose your condition.
- You might have other inflammatory conditions like gout, lupus, etc.
Rheumatologists treat over 200 rheumatic conditions. They can be inflammatory, autoimmune, and complex inherited conditions—like gout, scleroderma, nerve impingement, etc. You will likely get a rheumatologist referral if you have one of them.
- Your diagnosis is confirmed—and you need a treatment plan
Rheumatologists will create a personalized treatment plan to help you manage your condition. They may suggest:
- Lifestyle changes: Regular exercise and rest, calcium and vitamin D-rich diet, quit smoking, limit alcohol intake, etc.
- Medications: Disease-Modifying Antirheumatic Drugs (DMARDs), Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs), steroids, painkillers, etc.
- Supportive treatment: Physiotherapy, occupational therapy, etc.
- Surgery: Arthroscopy, joint replacement, etc., if required.
What can rheumatologists diagnose?
Rheumatologists diagnose several types of conditions, including
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Back pain
- Musculoskeletal pain disorders
- Nerve impingement
- Other inflammatory, autoimmune, and complex inherited disorders
You must reach out to a rheumatologist in the early stages. In some cases, the later you receive a diagnosis, the higher the chance of permanent joint or muscle damage.
[Still wondering why you’re being referred to a rheumatologist? Here’s a list of 5 types of patients’ rheumatologists see. Find out if you’re one of them!]
What happens at the first appointment with a rheumatologist?
On the first visit, rheumatologists will look into your patient file, understand your symptoms and do a physical examination. If you haven’t done any laboratory tests—they’ll ask you to get a few blood reports first.
Here’s what you can expect:
- Antinuclear antibodies (ANA) test: It detects the presence of antinuclear antibodies in your blood. It indicates you have an autoimmune disease (where your immune system attacks healthy tissues).
- Rheumatoid factor (RF) test: It measures the amount of rheumatoid factor in your blood which helps diagnose rheumatoid arthritis.
- Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR): It determines if you have a condition that causes inflammation or rheumatoid diseases—based on the sedimentation rate of red blood cells.
What procedures do they perform?
Rheumatologists help you manage rheumatoid symptoms by performing procedures like:
- Physical examinations
- Laboratory tests
- Joint injections and aspirations
- Diagnostic testing
- Imaging tests
- Joint replacement surgeries
How to prepare for your first visit to a rheumatologist?
Visiting a rheumatologist for the first time can be intimidating. Preparing for it beforehand will help you ease your nerves.
- Prepare a list of questions: Asking your doctor questions is essential to understand your symptoms and treatment options and make the right decision. It will also increase your comfort level with your rheumatologist.
- Make a list of your medical history: Many rheumatic diseases run in families. Your and your family’s medical history will help a rheumatologist assess your condition and prepare a treatment plan accordingly.
- Bring your previous test results: Carrying your test results is essential to diagnose your conditions and avoid repetitive tests. You don’t want to get a test done to realize you had undergone the same test earlier.
- Ask them for dedicated test centers: You’ll need to visit them regularly as test reports are required to monitor rheumatoid diseases. Asking for a recommendation from a rheumatologist will save you the time and effort of searching for one.
Meet a rheumatologist today
Finding the root cause of your medical problems is exhausting and stressful. We hope this article helped clarify any questions you had in mind.
If you’ve been referred to a rheumatologist and don’t know one, contact our experienced rheumatologists today.