"I'm referring you to a rheumatologist." When you hear those words come out of your doctor's mouth, you probably have more questions than answers. Rheumatology is not a widely known field of medicine, like orthopedics or gynecology, so you may be a bit confused as to why you're being referred to this kind of doctor and what they're going to do. But never fear — your questions should be answered below.
What is a rheumatologist?
Perhaps you've heard of rheumatic disorders, like rheumatoid arthritis. To put it simply, these are auto-immune diseases that are characterized by your body's own immune system attacking your bodily tissues. Usually, the joint tissues are attacked, as in rheumatoid arthritis, but sometimes other connective tissues are the main focus. Lupus, Sjogren's syndrome, and gout are also considered rheumatic disorders. Rheumatologists are doctors who specialize in diagnosing and treating these conditions. Not only have these doctors completed four years of standard medical school, but they have also completed several extra years of residency training in the specialty, and they have passed licensing exams to become board certified.
Why is your doctor referring you to a rheumatologist?
Your doctor is likely referring you to one of these specialists because they feel your symptoms are indicative of a possible rheumatic condition. These diseases are very complex, and they often mimic one another. The average general practitioner does not have enough experience with rheumatic disorders to distinguish which condition may be affecting you and how to best treat it, but a rheumatologist does.
What should you expect at your rheumatology appointment?
At your first appointment, your rheumatologist will likely talk to you about your medical history and symptoms. They will then order a battery of blood tests and imaging tests, such as MRIs and CT scans. They may prescribe you some medications such as corticosteroids or NSAIDs to keep you comfortable in the meantime until the test results come back.
Then, once the test results come back, you'll have another appointment during which your rheumatologist discusses your most likely diagnosis. They may have to order some additional tests for clarification. Based on the results, they may prescribe you immune regulators and recommend some lifestyle changes to help keep your symptoms at bay.
If your doctor has recommended that you see a rheumatologist, you should not feel too worried. These doctors are experts at diagnosing often-mysterious autoimmune conditions, so this visit is likely to be the first step on an important path towards accurate diagnosis and effective treatment.
Contact a medical center like Sarasota Arthritis Center to learn more.