FAQs About Rheumatic Diseases And The Reasons To See A Rheumatologist

What does a rheumatologist treat—and how can one of these specialized doctors help you? Your general internist or primary care physician (PCP) recently referred you to this type of specialist. But you want to learn more about rheumatologists before you schedule your first visit. Take a look at the top questions patients have about these doctors and the diseases they treat.

Are Rheumatologists the Same As General Doctors?

Like PCPs, rheumatologists also must complete college and graduate-level training to become medical doctors (M.D.). These specialists start their road to rheumatology after medical school. Rheumatologists (like other M.D.s) begin a residency program. This hands-on training either focuses on internal medicine for adults or pediatrics. After a three-year residency, these doctors must complete a subspecialty training program. 

According to the American College of Rheumatology, this includes doing a two to three-year fellowship and passing a national exam. The extra years of training and additional exam requirements help these doctors to become specialists in rheumatology—or the diagnosis and treatment of rheumatic diseases. 

What Are Rheumatic Diseases?

Now that you know more about how these specialists differ from general doctors or PCPs, you may still have questions about the specific types of diseases they treat. Rheumatic diseases include many different conditions. The American College of Rheumatology notes that these doctors help patients to manage more than 100 different types of rheumatic diseases. 

These conditions are known as systemic autoimmune diseases or connective tissue diseases. As the name implies, autoimmune diseases are conditions where a patient's own immune system attacks the body. This can result in inflammation, pain, and other uncomfortable physical issues. Common rheumatic conditions that require treatment from a specialist include rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma, vasculitis, systemic lupus erythematosus, gout, psoriatic arthritis, fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, and autoinflammatory diseases. 

How Can One of These Specialists Help You Right Now?

Do you have symptoms of a rheumatoid disease? Whether you have unexplained swelling, pain, or another issue, it's possible your PCP may want a specialist to evaluate your symptoms. The extra training rheumatologists have make these doctors the best providers to evaluate and diagnose potential autoimmune disorders. 

The specialist will take a full medical history, ask you to list your symptoms, conduct a physical exam, and possibly order blood tests or imaging studies. The results of your exam combined with other testing can help the doctor to create a full picture of your overall health and diagnose a rheumatological disease. After diagnosis, the specialist will create a treatment plan based on your individual needs. The specific type of treatment that you need will depend on the doctor's assessment, your diagnosis, other health concerns, and the available options.

For more information about rheumatologists, contact a professional service such as Sarasota Arthritis Center.