A subspecialty of internal medicine that involves the non-surgical evaluation and treatment of the rheumatic diseases and conditions. Rheumatic diseases and conditions are characterized by symptoms involving the musculoskeletal system. Many of the rheumatic diseases and conditions feature immune system abnormalities. Therefore, rheumatology also involves the study of the immune system.
A rheumatologist is a physician who is qualified by additional training and experience in the diagnosis and treatment of arthritis and other diseases of the joints, muscles and bones. Many rheumatologists conduct research to determine the cause and better treatments for these disabling and sometimes fatal diseases.
What kind of training do rheumatologists have?
After four or five years of medical school and three years of training in either internal medicine, rheumatologists devote an additional four years to specialized rheumatology training.
What do rheumatologists treat?
Rheumatologists treat arthritis, certain autoimmune diseases, musculoskeletal pain disorders and osteoporosis. There are more than 100 types of these diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, gout, lupus, back pain, osteoporosis, fibromyalgia and tendonitis. Some of these are very serious diseases that can be difficult to diagnose and treat.
Injection of the carpal tunnel
When should you see a rheumatologist?
If musculoskeletal pains are not severe or disabling and last just a few days, it makes sense to give the problem a reasonable chance to be resolved. But sometimes, pain in the joints, muscles or bones is severe or persists for more than a few days. At that point, you should see your physician.
Many types of rheumatic diseases are not easily identified in the early stages. Rheumatologists are specially trained to do the detective work necessary to discover the cause of swelling and pain. It's important to determine a correct diagnosis early so that appropriate treatment can begin early. Some musculoskeletal disorders respond best to treatment in the early stages of the disease.
Because some rheumatic diseases are complex, one visit to a rheumatologist may not be enough to determine a diagnosis and course of treatment. These diseases often change or evolve over time. Rheumatologists work closely with patients to identify the problem and design an individualized treatment program.
Children are not immune to arthritis
How does the rheumatologist work with other health care professionals?
The role the rheumatologist plays in health care depends on several factors and needs. Typically the rheumatologist works with other physicians, sometimes acting as a consultant to advise another physician about a specific diagnosis and treatment plan. In other situations, the rheumatologist acts as a a manager, relying upon the help of many skilled professionals including nurses, physical and occupational therapists, psychologists and social workers. Team work is important, since musculoskeletal disorders are chronic. Health care professionals can help people with musculoskeletal diseases and their families cope with the changes the diseases cause in their lives.
Rheumatologists also work closely with orthopaedic surgeons, who perform joint replacements, soft tissue reconstruction and repair and nerve decompression, and with radiologists who report on X-rays, CT, MRI and ultrasound scans. They may also call upon neurosurgeons (in particular for neck and back problems).
Your consultant will always keep your own GP fully informed of your clinic reviews.