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Frequently Asked Questions

From the following sources:

What is a rheumatologist?

A rheumatologist is an internist or pediatrician who is qualified by additional training and experience in the diagnosis and treatment of arthritis and other diseases of the joints, muscles and bones. Many rheumatologists conduct research to determine the cause and better treatments for these disabling and sometimes fatal diseases.

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 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 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 musculoskeletal pains are not severe or disabling and last just a few days, it makes sense to give the problem a reasonable chance to be resolved. 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 your physician.

Many types of rheumatic diseases are not 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 early. Some musculoskeletal disorders respond best to treatment in the early stages of the disease.

Because some 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 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 manager, relying upon the help of many skilled professionals including nurses, physical and occupational therapists, psychologists and social workers. Teamwork is important, since musculoskeletal disorders are chronic. Health care professionals can help people with musculoskeletal diseases and their families cope with the changes the diseases cause in their lives.

Is specialty care more expensive?

You may be surprised to learn that specialized care may save time and money and reduce the severity of disease. A rheumatologist is specially trained to spot clues in the medical history and physical examination. The proper tests done early may save money in the long run. Prompt diagnosis and specially tailored treatment often save money and buy time in treating the disease.

What is rheumatoid arthritis?

Arthritis is a general term that describes inflammation in the joints. Rheumatoid arthritis is a type of arthritis that occurs on both sides of the body (hands, wrists, knees, etc.). The symmetry of the inflammation helps to distinguish rheumatoid from other types of arthritis.

What are the symptoms?

  • Joint pain and swelling
  • Stiffness, especially in the morning or after sitting for long periods
  • Fatigue

It affects everyone differently and symptoms may appear gradually over the course of several years.

Who gets rheumatoid arthritis?

Approximately 1% of the population will be affected by this condition. Research hasn't yet determined what role genetics may play.

How is the condition diagnosed?

The diagnosis may be made a number of ways, including:

  • Location and symmetry of joint pain
  • Morning stiffness
  • Bumps and nodules under skin (rheumatoid nodules)
  • X-rays
  • Positive results on a rheumatoid factor blood test

What treatment is available?

A variety of treatments, including medication, rest and exercise and even surgery can be used to treat this condition.

Medications can decrease joint swelling and pain, and possibly prevent or slow the progression of the disease.

A balance between rest and exercise is important. During flare-ups, it is best to rest the joints. Sometimes using a cane or splints is advised. In other times, a low impact exercise program can be beneficial.

Surgery may become an option when joint pain becomes so severe that medication is unable to alleviate symptoms.