Rheumatologists are doctors that specialize in joints, soft tissues, auto-immune diseases and heritable connective tissue disorders, together called rheumatic diseases or musculoskeletal diseases. The branch of medicine that studies these rheumatic diseases is called rheumatology. Rheumatic diseases affect body parts such as joints, tendons, muscles, ligaments and bones while causing immense pain, swelling and in some severe cases even affect the mobility or lead to loss of motion. A person suffering from a rheumatic disease will need to consult a specialist, called a rheumatologist. A rheumatologist is different than an orthopedist since they do not perform surgeries; instead treat the condition or problem by devising a suitable per condition involving medicines, regular exercises, a healthy diet, stress management and rest.
When to visit a Rheumatologist?
One must be aware of the symptoms of rheumatic diseases so as to know when to seek medical help from a rheumatologist. Some of the general symptoms that might indicate a rheumatic disease are:
- Acute and persistent joint pain
- Tenderness in joints
- Joint swelling
- Joint stiffness
- Joint redness and warmth
- Joint deformity
- Loss of function and flexibility in a joint
- Lack of energy
- Unexplained rash
- Unexplained weight loss
While most of the times, joint and muscle pain is neglected as a passing problem, but in cases where the pain does not subside or reduce, a deeper evaluation to know the cause – becomes necessary. Moreover, if you have a family history of rheumatic disorders or the symptoms tend to intensify, one must visit a rheumatologist at the earliest. Ignorance of rheumatic diseases can lead to joint damage in the long run and can also impact the overall immune system, which in turn impacts the other body organs. Rheumatic diseases, if not treated on time can severely impact the quality of one’s life including activities such as walking, climbing stairs, cooking and hygiene.
What diseases are diagnosed by Rheumatologists?
There are more than 100 diseases and disorders diagnosed by a rheumatologist. Some of the diseases diagnosed by rheumatologists are:
- Inflammatory arthritis in knees, hips or shoulders
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Psoriatic arthritis
- Antiphospholipid antibody syndrome
- Still’s disease
- Reactive arthritis
- Kawasaki disease
- Infectious arthritis
- Polymyalgia rheumatic
- Giant cell arteritis
- Behcet’s disease
- Paget’s disease
- Reiter’s syndrome
Rheumatology also involves treating soft tissue and bone problems such as low back pain, tennis or golfer’s elbow, olecranon bursitis, fluorosis, osteoporosis, etc. Rheumatology also cures genetic disorders affecting the joints.
What procedures will be performed to diagnose rheumatic diseases?
To carefully detect rheumatic conditions and problems, a rheumatologist might perform several diagnostic tests and exams, and then correlate symptoms to understand and treat the problem better. Some of the procedures performed include:
Physical Exam: A rheumatologist will conduct a complete physical exam upon visit; it will involve checking the pulse, listening to the heart and lungs, and feeling for swollen lymph nodes. An examination of the affected joint or structure will also be conducted and problems such as swelling, injury, loss of motion, pain, stiffness, etc. will be monitored. Moreover, the rheumatologist will assess the family history, cause of the problem, symptoms and current health condition to get a comprehensive view.
Diagnostic Tests: A rheumatologist will conduct some diagnostic tests to understand the underlying problem of the symptoms. Some potential causes of rheumatic problems include environmental surroundings, genes, infections, autoimmune problems and abnormal uric acid metabolism. Some diagnostic tests include blood tests, bone, joint and muscle tests, brain and nerve tests, cancer tests, etc.
Imaging Tests: A rheumatologist will conduct or recommend certain imaging tests including X-ray, ultrasound, CT scan and MRI scan to analyse the damage to the joint.
Laboratory Tests: A rheumatologist might also conduct lab tests of samples of blood, urine or joint fluids to detect for problems such as infections, inflammation, etc. These samples are also used to diagnose inflammatory compounds, antibodies and white blood cells.
What to expectation from a Rheumatologist’s visit?
When you visit a rheumatologist, expect to provide all medical and family medical history. You will also be made to take a physical examination to determine the inflammation in the body and musculoskeletal system. All previous test results and diagnosis reports must be kept handy while visiting a rheumatologist. You may also be asked to undergo certain more laboratory tests or get an X-ray, ultrasound, CT scan or MRI done to study the problem in detail.
All of the results combined with the symptoms of the patient and the intensity of the disease, a personalized plan to tackle rheumatology disorder will be formed. This course of treatment will involve physical therapy, medicines, joint injections, exercises, etc. The rheumatologist will also guide you through the process so regaining function, control, and ways to prevent rheumatic diseases. In rare and severe cases, the rheumatologist will suggest surgery to cure rheumatic disease.
Depending on the nature of the illness, response to medication and therapy, the rheumatologist will suggest ongoing treatment or follow-ups.