When should I see a Rheumatologist?
Everyone experiences muscle, bone, or joint pain from time to time. When the pain does not resolve as one would expect, additional evaluation may be needed. Typically, a primary care, urgent care, or an emergency room provider (physician, nurse practitioner, or physician assistant) is seen for the first evaluation. If there is a concern for an underlying rheumatic condition, he/she may refer you to rheumatology for evaluation. Occasionally, other health care providers such as physical therapists, occupational therapists, chiropractors, orthopedic surgeons, or other medical specialists may recommend that you see a rheumatologist.
You should consider seeing a rheumatologist earlier if you have relatives with an autoimmune or rheumatic disease (as these conditions often run in families) or if the symptoms are significantly worsening over a short period. Some of the signs and symptoms can improve or temporarily resolve when initially treated, but they can occasionally recur after you stop treatment. If the symptoms continue to return, a rheumatology evaluation may be needed.
Joint damage may potentially occur in some rheumatic diseases. Therefore, it is essential to see a rheumatologist sooner than later. In many diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis and psoriatic arthritis, quicker diagnosis and treatment can prevent permanent damage to the joints. This damage cannot always be reversed with treatment and may be permanent. Do not delay appropriate evaluation.
What should I expect from my Rheumatology visit?
Rheumatic diseases are sometimes complex and challenging to diagnose. So, a rheumatologist will gather a complete medical history and perform a physical exam to look for signs and symptoms that may give clues to the cause of the problem. Your family history can be helpful in diagnosing rheumatic diseases. Your rheumatologist will want to know as much about your family history as possible.
The rheumatologist will review the results of any prior testing. The rheumatologist may order additional laboratory tests, imaging studies (X-ray, ultrasound, CT scan, MRI), or other tests to assess for additional potential clues to the possible cause of your musculoskeletal problem.
All of these results will be combined to determine the source of a patient’s symptoms and develop a personalized treatment plan. Treatment recommendations may include medications, referral to physical or occupational therapy, referral to other specialists, or to perform joint/tendon injections. Some rheumatic diseases can be challenging to diagnose and may require several visits with your rheumatologist.
During follow-up appointments, our rheumatologist may treat reoccurring conditions or talk with patients about medications, coping mechanisms, techniques for preventing disability or regaining function, and ways to improve their quality of life.
What should I bring to my first rheumatology visit?
Please bring the following to your first rheumatology visit:
- Any previous labs, radiographic X-ray/ultrasound/MRI tests results, and doctors’ notes for review. Don’t assume that your referring physician will send your medical records. It is vital that you ensure that as much information is available to the rheumatologist on your first visit as possible.
- 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 and intolerances to medications.
- Your family history, including any known relatives with rheumatologic/autoimmune disease. Find out and list all aspects of family history, no matter how trivial you feel it may be.
- A list of all previous medical problems, surgeries, travel history, sleep habits, diet, exercise, and social history (education, occupation, sports, and the use of illicit drugs, for example).