• Shruti GOCHHWAL

Rheumatologist – Who Are They and What Do They Do?

The realm of medicine is very wide. There are a range of medical professionals in this field who diagnose and help patients get relief from a number of health conditions. One such medical profession is that of rheumatology. It would not have taken you long to guess who can be a rheumatologist. They are those professionals who spend their lives diagnosing and treating various kinds of conditions that primarily impact the joints, ligaments, tendons, bones, and muscles of people.

Today, people are increasingly facing joint and muscle related issues. A warning sign that may make you aware of the need of seeing a rheumatologist is continuous joint pain or stiffness over a period of time. It is your body’s way of telling you that there is a certain underlying disorder that is affecting the optimal working of joints, tendons, and ligaments that you may need to address.

Who Is a Rheumatologist?

rheumatologist

Rheumatologist treating patient, Credit: Canva


As mentioned above, rheumatologist refers to a doctor who specifically concerns themselves with the treatment of various inflammatory conditions affecting the bones, muscles, ligaments, tendons, and joints. These conditions are called musculoskeletal disorders. As part of their work, rheumatologists diagnose and treat them but they do not engage themselves  in performing surgeries.

You might wonder how long it takes for a rheumatologist after completing their education to start treating patients. Well, for one to go into this field, they must graduate from a medical college, after that pursue a residency program, and then engage in rheumatology fellowship. It is only after the fellowship that the person can sit for a board examination to receive a certificate that makes them qualified to practice rheumatology. Throughout their career, a rheumatologist has to keep themselves updated with all that is happening in their  field and keep participating in various education courses.

What Are the Branches in the Field of Rheumatology?

rheumatology branches

Picture showing rheumatology areas, Credit: Canva


There are various rheumatic conditions. A rheumatologist can decide if he or she wants to treat some particular conditions or focus on a specialised area. There are various subspecialties in this field. These sub specialties include:

  1. Non-inflammatory conditions of the joint that are degenerative

  2. Inflammatory rheumatic conditions

  3. Inflammatory and autoimmune rheumatic conditions

  4. Diseases pertaining to the soft tissues

  5. Chronic and persistent pain

  6. Metabolic disorders affecting primarily the bones of a person

  7. Juvenile or pediatric rheumatic conditions

Conditions That Are Diagnosed and Treated by Rheumatologists

conditions treated

X-ray of legs, Credit: Canva


A wide range of inflammatory and autoimmune disorders that impact the bones, muscles, joints, ligaments, tendons and blood vessels are diagnosed and treated by a rheumatologist. These are the following conditions:

  1. Inflammatory arthritis that affects the shoulders, hips, and knees

  2. Injury or inflammation of the tendon, also known as a tendonitis

  3. An autoimmune disease, that is, rheumatoid arthritis which causes swelling in the joint area

  4. The wear-and-tear of the tissue that is present at the bone ending, also called osteoarthritis.

  5. Decrease in the density of the bone, also called osteoporosis

  6. Lupus, or systemic lupus erythematosus

  7. Abnormal bone formation, also called Paget’s disease

What Kind of Diagnostic Procedures Does a Rheumatologist Follow?

There are three kinds of procedures that a rheumatologist use to diagnose and treat their patients. They are:

  1. Physical exams

  2. Diagnostic testing

  3. Imaging tests

  4. Laboratory testing

1.   Physical Exams

rheumatologists

Rheumatologists treating patient, Credit: Canva


If you are going to a rheumatologist for the first time, he or she will conduct your full physical exam. They will check your pulse rate, hear the beat of your heart and the sound of your lungs and feel those lymph nodes that may be swollen. You might be asked to bend, flex, or stretch those areas where you feel pain. Apart from this, they will also ask for your medical history and inquire about any conditions you might be suffering from.

2.   Diagnostic Testing

diagnosting testing

Doctor holding injection, Credit: Canva


All the musculoskeletal conditions are diagnosed by rheumatologists with the help of diagnostic testing. This testing is done to determine the causes of a patient’s symptoms. The causes of swelling and inflammation include the following:

  1. Exposure to environment elements

  2. Genetics

  3. Infections

  4. Autoimmune conditions

  5. Unusual uric acid metabolism

Many conditions lead to cartilage or bone loss. A rheumatologist can, through diagnostic testing, identify these conditions too.

3.   Imaging Tests

rheumatologists

An Imaging test in progress, Credit: Canva


Imaging tests are done to determine signs and symptoms of damage in the joints. Some of the most common imaging tests include X-rays, MRI scan, CT scan, and ultrasound.

4.   Laboratory Testing

laboratory testing

Rheumatologists in a lab, Credit: Canva


A rheumatologist also undertakes laboratory testing to find out the causes for inflammation and other kinds of infections. During laboratory testing, you may be asked to provide a sample of your urine, blood, or joint fluid. These are then further analysed. The results from these tests are interpreted by a rheumatologist to determine the presence of more than usual levels of antibodies, inflammatory elements, or white blood cells. Through the test results, rheumatologists can also find out if you are genetically prone to developing autoimmune conditions.

There are various ways by which a rheumatologist can treat your joint, bones, or muscle conditions. You may be injected with a medication with anti-inflammatory properties like a steroid or you may be prescribed an anti-rheumatic drug. A rheumatologist, through these treatments, helps to lower your immune system activity that is causing the spread of these conditions. There are various anti-inflammatory drugs that you may be recommended by a rheumatologist  in your treatment plan. Some of the most common ones include ibuprofen, aspirin, meloxicam, naproxen, among others. Thus, ultimately, after your treatment you will be freed from any joint inflammation condition.

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