Get Better Care: Understanding Rheumatology From Referral To Treatment

Education, Featured News
Thursday, February 29 2024

For most patients, a rheumatology referral marks the beginning of a complex journey that requires them to navigate a new medical condition during an often emotional, painful, and uncertain time. However, when given accessible information about inflammatory or rheumatic diseases and the opportunity to collaborate with their providers, patients can more actively participate in their care from diagnosis to treatment and ongoing management of their condition. 

Rheumatologic Care

Though most people associate rheumatic conditions with persistent pain and swelling in the joints, they also can cause tendon issues, and muscle injuries and affect other body systems like the eyes, skin, heart, and lungs. Because the breadth of symptoms and conditions is so wide-ranging, an accurate diagnosis and effective treatment plan depends on open patient-provider communication and shared decision-making.

Diagnosis involves a collaborative process between patients and various healthcare professionals, focusing on capturing comprehensive medical history, physical examinations and sometimes intricate laboratory tests. 

Once diagnosed, treatment commences, typically involving a combination of medications and, in some cases, physical therapy. Patients may encounter the need to manage complex medication regimens, potential side effects, and the need for regular follow-up appointments. 

In addition to medication, lifestyle changes are essential to the ongoing management of rheumatic conditions. Exercise, rest, and nutrition are critical, as is learning about your disease so that you can take charge of your care and collaborate with your care team. 

Rheumatology Overview

What is rheumatology?

Rheumatology is a medical specialty that diagnoses and treats inflammatory and autoimmune disorders that often cause musculoskeletal symptoms. A rheumatologist is an internal medicine doctor specializing in inflammatory conditions such as arthritis, autoimmune diseases, and musculoskeletal pain.

What conditions do rheumatologists treat?

Rheumatologists treat various conditions, including:

These are in addition to the other autoimmune and inflammatory disorders affecting the joints, muscles, and bones.

How are rheumatologists different from other specialists, like orthopedists?

Rheumatologists specialize in conditions affecting the musculoskeletal system and often collaborate with other healthcare professionals, such as physical therapists and primary care physicians, to provide comprehensive care. Although orthopedists and rheumatologists treat many of the same conditions, rheumatologists are experts in inflammatory and autoimmune diseases who consider every organ system when evaluating your symptoms. Orthopedists focus on acute injuries, congenital diseases, and degenerative conditions. Orthopedists may perform surgery, but rheumatologists do not. 

When should I see a rheumatologist?

Patients are typically referred to a rheumatologist by their primary care team or by another specialist. Consult a rheumatologist if you have persistent joint pain, swelling, stiffness, or other symptoms related to the musculoskeletal system, especially if you have a family history of rheumatic or autoimmune disease. If you are experiencing symptoms now, don’t hesitate; receiving care in earlier stages lowers your risk.

What can I expect during a rheumatology appointment?

During your appointment, the rheumatologist will ask you a series of in-depth questions to complete a detailed medical history. They will also conduct a physical examination and potentially order diagnostic tests. This information helps them find the cause of your symptoms and create a personalized treatment plan.

What standard tests are used to diagnose rheumatic conditions?

Diagnosing rheumatic conditions may require blood tests, imaging studies (X-rays, MRI, ultrasound), and joint aspiration. These tests help rheumatologists evaluate inflammation levels, detect specific antibodies, and assess the condition of joints and tissues.

What are common approaches to treating rheumatic conditions? 

Treatment aims to limit pain and inflammation while preserving and improving joint function. Treatment may involve medication, physical therapy, lifestyle modifications, and, in some cases, surgical interventions. Rheumatologists work closely with their patients to manage symptoms, control inflammation, and improve overall quality of life.

Are there lifestyle changes that can help manage rheumatic conditions?

Yes, lifestyle modifications like a healthy diet, regular exercise, stress management, and ample rest complement medical treatment and improve overall well-being for people with rheumatic conditions.

How often should I see a rheumatologist?

Appointment frequency varies based on the specific condition and its severity. During diagnostic and early treatment phases, patients may need to be seen more frequently. Follow-up visits are likely to be less frequent as the condition stabilizes.

Can rheumatic conditions be cured?

Some rheumatic conditions can be cured, or treated to a state of remission.  Many rheumatic conditions can be effectively controlled but require chronic treatment. Early diagnosis and appropriate treatment are critical factors in achieving positive outcomes.

Is it possible to prevent rheumatic conditions?

While not all rheumatic conditions are preventable, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, staying physically active, and managing known underlying health conditions can contribute to overall joint and musculoskeletal health.

Living with a rheumatic condition is a long-term commitment both to managing the disease and to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. That commitment - and your experience as a patient - is made easier with a holistic understanding of not only the physical aspects of the disease but also the emotional and psychological dimensions of living with a chronic condition. 

If you or a loved one were referred to a rheumatologist or are experiencing symptoms of a rheumatic condition, search to see if there is an Articularis Healthcare Group practice near you.

Articularis Healthcare Group's rheumatology practices offer individualized patient care with physicians and support staff dedicated to providing an exceptional, collaborative experience during your healthcare journey.