When to See a Rheumatologist? 5 Signs To Watch Out For

Your primary care physician is equipped to provide the proper care for daily aches and pains, sicknesses, injuries, and much more. But if you are one of the 50 million Americans suffering from certain autoimmune diseases, you may require specialized care. Read on to find out when to see a rheumatologist and what signs you need to pay close attention to.


What Is a Rheumatologist and What Diseases Do They Treat? 

Are you having persistent joint or muscle pain? Depending on the circumstances, it could be a call to see a rheumatologist. Rheumatologists are doctors who receive special training in diagnosing and treating musculoskeletal diseases and systemic autoimmune conditions. Commonly known as rheumatic diseases. These diseases can be tricky to diagnose and treat, but patient outcomes tend to be much better if they’re caught early.  

Rheumatic diseases can affect the joints, muscles, and blood vessels. Symptoms include pain, swelling, and stiffness. These diseases include rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, scleroderma, and spondyloarthritis. According to the Yale School of Medicine, women are twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with an autoimmune disease

When you first see a rheumatologist, they will perform a physical exam. They may also run some tests to determine or confirm a diagnosis. Once they have a diagnosis, they’ll work with you to find treatments that improve your symptoms and are manageable for you to maintain. This may take several rounds of different treatments or medications to determine the best one for you. Treatment may include medication, injections into joints or tendons, diet, exercise, and stress management suggestions, or a referral to other specialists, like a physical therapist. 


Here are five signs that you may benefit from seeing a rheumatologist: 

  1. You have persistent and unexplained joint pain/swelling. If you have unexplained joint pains and swelling and it’s been going on for a while, or if your symptoms are worsening quickly, you may need to see a rheumatologist. 
  2. You have repeated episodes of joint pains accompanied by swelling, fever, or skin rash.
  3. You have joint stiffness or swelling that lasts more than 30 minutes. It’s worse in the morning or after long periods of inactivity. And if your pain worsens quickly or your symptoms disappear with medication but return once you stop taking that medication, you may need to see a rheumatologist.
  4. You have certain abnormal blood test results. Sometimes doctors can order blood tests that reveal an underlying cause of a patient’s symptoms. A doctor may want to test your blood for antinuclear antibodies (ANA), rheumatoid factor (RF), and erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR). 
  5. You have a mysterious chronic illness without a definite diagnosis. Rheumatologists often diagnose and treat rare diseases that other doctors aren’t specially trained to see. A rheumatologist may be the key to unifying mysterious and seemingly unrelated symptoms into an illuminating or helpful diagnosis. Seeing a  rheumatologist could help you avoid months or years of waiting for a diagnosis. 


Scheduling An Appointment

If any of these conditions above apply to you or a family member, consider scheduling an appointment with your primary care doctor. Ask them about a referral to a rheumatologist. And note that many rheumatic conditions are hereditary. So you should let your doctor know if you have any family history of autoimmune disease, rheumatic disease, or cancer. Whether you’re looking for a rheumatologist in San Diego or another doctor or facility, Scripps Affiliated Medical Groups has the resources available to find the care you need.

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