Why you should see a rheumatologist
While you may be seeing a primary care physician, the effect of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) varies from person to person and requires a series of specialized diagnostic tests to be identified. A rheumatologist is experienced in the work-up necessary to identify the disease causing your pain and swelling.
Already diagnosed? If you've already been diagnosed with RA, you can still benefit by seeing a rheumatologist. A specialist will be able to assess your RA and overall condition in more detail than your primary care physician.
What makes rheumatologists different from primary care physicians
Rheumatologists specialize in diagnosing and treating arthritic diseases, including RA. They can—and often do—work with primary care physicians to offer advice and share their expertise regarding diagnosis and treatment. After 4 years of medical school and 3 years of preparation in internal medicine, rheumatologists devote a minimum of 2 years to rheumatology-specific training.
How to prepare for an appointment
In order to make a proper diagnosis, your rheumatologist will need to get as much information from you as possible to create a detailed patient history. Be prepared to answer questions about when your symptoms started and how they affect you. Your doctor will also want to know if any of your family members have RA or a similar condition, and if you have been diagnosed with any other conditions.
To make the most of your appointment time, jot down a list of questions you would like answered. Keep in mind that the more you share with a rheumatologist about your condition, the better he or she will be able to diagnose and treat you.
What to expect in an initial examination
During your first visit to the rheumatologist, he or she will listen to you describe your symptoms. Your rheumatologist may also perform a full musculoskeletal exam, which involves a focused examination of your joints and muscles. By having you engage in different activities, your rheumatologist will be able to assess the range of motion of your joints.
If a diagnosis is made, your rheumatologist will explain the nature of your illness and what you might expect in the future. With an accurate diagnosis and a shared understanding of your illness, your rheumatologist can work with you to develop a treatment program aimed at managing pain and reducing inflammation.