A rheumatologist is a physician or pediatrician who specializes in diagnosing (detecting) and treating conditions affecting muscles, bones, joints, ligaments, and tendons. These diseases can cause pain, swelling, stiffness, and joint deformities. The old word for these problems is “rheumatism.” A “rheumatologist” is therefore a doctor who treats rheumatism. Rheumatologists also treat a range of conditions called “systemic autoimmune diseases.” Other terms we hear or read interchangeably with systemic autoimmune disease are “collage nous vascular disease” and “connective tissue disease.” This is a series of diseases in which a person’s immune system attacks his own body.
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How are rheumatologists trained?
Rheumatologists must complete 3-4 years of internal medicine or pediatric training followed by 3-4 years of internal medicine or osteopathic training. Some rheumatologists are trained in both internal medicine and pediatrics. Rheumatologists who graduated from medical school use the initials MD (Doctor) after their name, and rheumatologists who graduated from osteopathic school use the initials DO (Doctor of Osteopathy). However, both types of doctors have similar training and have similar levels of expertise and care. After the residency, a Rheumatology Fellowship will require him to participate for 2-3 years in order to specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of musculoskeletal and autoimmune diseases.
Where do rheumatologists work?
Rheumatologists are primarily outpatients. A general practitioner or other doctor can refer you to a rheumatologist for testing. Many rheumatologists do not need to book a referral from another doctor. Some rheumatologists are affiliated with hospitals and see patients who are hospitalized for rheumatic problems.
When should I see a rheumatologist?
Most people experience muscle, bone, or joint pain from time to time. If the pain does not subside as expected, additional tests may be needed. The initial evaluation is usually done by your primary care physician, paramedic, or emergency room (physician, nurse, or physician’s assistant). If there are concerns about an underlying rheumatic disease, we may refer you to a rheumatology clinic for evaluation. Occasionally, other health care providers, such as physical therapists, occupational therapists, chiropractors, orthopedic surgeons, or other health care professionals, may recommend seeing a rheumatologist.
What can I expect when I see a rheumatologist?
Rheumatic diseases can be complex and difficult to diagnose. Therefore, a rheumatologist will take a complete medical history and perform a physical examination to look for signs and symptoms that may provide clues as to the cause of the problem. A family history can help diagnose rheumatic disease. Your rheumatologist will want to know as much as possible about your family history. A rheumatologist will review the results of previous tests. Your rheumatologist may order additional laboratory tests, imaging tests (X-rays, ultrasound, CT, MRI), or other tests to find clues about possible causes of musculoskeletal problems.