What is a Rheumatologist?
A rheumatologist is an internist or pediatrician, who received further training in the diagnosis (detection) and treatment of musculoskeletal disease and systemic autoimmune conditions commonly referred to as rheumatic diseases. These diseases can affect the joints, muscles and bones causing pain, swelling, stiffness and deformity.
Autoimmune conditions occur when the immune system sends inflammation to areas of the body when it is not needed causing damage/symptoms. These diseases can also affect the eyes, skin, nervous system and internal organs. Rheumatologists treat joint disease similar to orthopedists but do not perform surgeries. Common diseases treated by rheumatologists include osteoarthritis, gout, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic back pain, tendinitis, and lupus.
Many rheumatologists also conduct research to find a cause of and better treatment of a rheumatic disease.
What kind of training do Rheumatologists have?
After four years of medical school and three years of training in either internal medicine or pediatrics, rheumatologists devote an additional two to three years in specialized rheumatology training. Most rheumatologists who plan to treat patients (rather than conduct research) choose to become board certified. Upon completion of their training, they must pass a rigorous exam conducted by the American Board of Internal Medicine to become certified.
What do Rheumatologists treat?
Rheumatologists treat rheumatic diseases, which cause inflammation in the connective tissue and in other parts of the body. There are more than 100 types of these diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, gout, lupus, back pain, osteoporosis, fibromyalgia and bursitis. Some of these are very serious diseases that can be difficult to diagnose and treat.
When should you see a Rheumatologist?
If aches and pains are not severe or disabling and last just a few days, it makes sense to give the problem a reasonable chance to go away. But sometimes, pain in the joints, muscles or bones is severe or persists for more than a few days. At that point, you should see a doctor, especially if swelling is present. Swelling around one or more joints that is not caused by injury often points to an underlying problem. Many types of rheumatic diseases may not be easily identified in the early stages. Rheumatologists are specially trained to do the detective work necessary to discover the cause of swelling and pain. It's important to determine a correct diagnosis early so that appropriate treatment can begin immediately. Some rheumatic disease, like rheumatoid arthritis, respond better to treatment in the early stages of the diseases. Because many rheumatic diseases are complex, one visit to a rheumatologist may not be enough to determine a diagnosis and course of treatment. These diseases often change or evolve over time. Rheumatologists work closely with patients to take a thorough medical history and perform a detailed physical examination to identify the problem and design an individualized treatment program.
How does the Rheumatologist work with other Health Care Professionals?
The role the rheumatologist plays in health care depends on several factors and needs. Typically the rheumatologist works with other physicians, sometimes acting as a consultant to advise another physician about a specific diagnosis and treatment plan. In other situations, the rheumatologist acts as a a manager, relying upon the help of many skilled professionals including nurses, physical and occupational therapists, psychologists and social workers. Team work is important, since rheumatic diseases may last a lifetime. Health care professionals can help people with rheumatic diseases and their families cope with the changes the diseases cause in their lives.
Copy courtesy of: The American College of Rheumatology