What Is a Rheumatologist and Do I Need to See One?


A rheumatologist is a medical doctor who is trained in both the diagnosis and treatment of many different musculoskeletal diseases as well as systemic autoimmune diseases. These diseases not only affect the bones, joints, muscles and soft tissues, but can also affect various internal organs including the eyes, skin, kidneys, nerves, heart and lungs.

There are over 100 different types of arthritis and, rheumatologists specialize in many of these conditions. Some of these different diseases include osteoarthritis, gout, systemic lupus erythematous, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, Sjogren’s Syndrome, ankylosing spondylitis, scleroderma, myositis, polymyalgia rheumatica and giant cell arteritis.

A rheumatologist relies on a thorough history and physical exam, blood tests and diagnostic imaging studies in order to make a diagnosis. Once a diagnosis has been made, a rheumatologist will make recommendations on the best treatment options for their patients.

Treatment of these diseases varies and may include medications, local injections, lifestyle management, referrals to other specialties including orthopedics, physical and occupational therapy, and possibly other medical teams if there is internal organ involvement. Rheumatologists follow their patients closely to monitor progress and adjust treatment as needed.

Rheumatologists treat some of the same disease that orthopedists treat, but rheumatologists do not perform surgery. Rheumatologists work together with orthopedists in order to help control disease activity of their patients to ensure the best possible surgical outcomes.

Many patients see their primary care doctors first for initial evaluation of their musculoskeletal complaints. A rheumatologic evaluation should not be delayed, as permanent joint and muscle damage is possible if these conditions are left untreated. Treatment for many rheumatologic diseases has improved significantly over the years making outcomes much more favorable.

If you are experiencing any of the following signs or symptoms, ask your doctor if a rheumatologic evaluation is necessary.
*Pain and swelling of several joints
*New joint or muscle pain not associated with an injury
*Joint or muscle pain associated with systemic symptoms such as fevers, rashes, and fatigue
*Abnormal blood testing including an antinuclear antibody, rheumatoid factor and sedimentation rate

A rheumatologist will help determine what type of musculoskeletal disease you have and will make a treatment plan specific for you and your condition.







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  • rheumatology