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.
Everyone experiences muscle and joint pain from time to time. When the muscle and joint pain is not resolving as one would expect, additional evaluation may be needed. Typically, the primary care physician is seen for the first evaluation. If there is concern for an underlying rheumatic condition, he/she will refer you to rheumatology for evaluation.
Earlier referral should be made if you have relatives with autoimmune or rheumatic disease (as these conditions run in families) or if the symptoms are significantly worsening over a short period of time. Some of the signs and symptoms can improve or temporarily resolve when initially treated but can return once the medication is stopped. If the symptoms continue to return, a rheumatology evaluation may be needed.
Joint damage can occur if the symptoms of joint pain are ignored or not treated properly over a period of time. This damage cannot always be reversed with treatment and may be permanent. Do not delay appropriate evaluation.
. Any previous lab and/or radiographic X-ray/ultrasound/MRI tests results for review (medical records are typically sent by the referring physician, but occasionally – despite best intentions – are not present. Sometimes tests need to be repeated to confirm the result)
. An up-to-date medication list with the specific dosages you are taking (include a list of medications you have already tried to reduce duplication of prior treatments)
. A list of allergies to medications
. Your family history, including any known relatives with rheumatologic/autoimmune disease.