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?
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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?
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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:
Non-inflammatory conditions of the joint that are degenerative
Inflammatory rheumatic conditions
Inflammatory and autoimmune rheumatic conditions
Diseases pertaining to the soft tissues
Chronic and persistent pain
Metabolic disorders affecting primarily the bones of a person
Juvenile or pediatric rheumatic conditions
Conditions That Are Diagnosed and Treated by Rheumatologists
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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:
Inflammatory arthritis that affects the shoulders, hips, and knees
Injury or inflammation of the tendon, also known as a tendonitis
An autoimmune disease, that is, rheumatoid arthritis which causes swelling in the joint area
The wear-and-tear of the tissue that is present at the bone ending, also called osteoarthritis.
Decrease in the density of the bone, also called osteoporosis
Lupus, or systemic lupus erythematosus
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
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
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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:
Exposure to environment elements
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
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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
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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.