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What is a rheumatologist?
A rheumatologist is an internist or pediatrician who received further training in the diagnosis (detection) and treatment of arthritis and other musculoskeletal diseases. Also called “rheumatic” diseases, these diseases affect the joints, muscles and bones. Many rheumatologists also conduct research to find the cause of and better treatment for these disabling diseases.
What kind of training do rheumatologists have?
Rheumatologists must first complete four years of medical school and three years of residency training in primary care (either internal medicine or pediatrics). After taking a national exam to become board certified, rheumatologists devote two to three years in specialized training in an accredited rheumatology fellowship program.
Most rheumatologists who plan to treat patients choose to become board certified in rheumatology after their fellowship training. If the doctor has trained in internal medicine, the subspecialty exam and certification are by the American Board of Internal Medicine. Physicians who trained in pediatrics take their board exam from the American Board of Pediatrics.
Rheumatologists who are certified by these boards after 1990 must complete an extensive recertification process every 10 years. This process shows they have kept their medical skills and knowledge up to date.
What do rheumatologists treat?
Rheumatologists treat arthritis, certain autoimmune diseases (when the body comes under attack by its own immune system), musculoskeletal pain and osteoporosis. There are more than 100 types of these rheumatic conditions.
A few of them are:
- Ankylosing SpondylitisRheumatoid Arthritis
Some of the rheumatic diseases are very serious and can be hard to diagnose and treat.
When should you see a rheumatologist?
If muscle or joint pains are not severe and began just a few days before, it makes sense to give the problem time to resolve on its own. But sometimes, pain in the joints, muscles or bones is severe or lasts more than a few days. At that point, you should see your doctor.
Many types of rheumatic diseases are not easy to find in the early stage, and you may need to see a specialist. Rheumatologists are specially trained to find the cause of joint swelling and pain. It is important for patients to get a correct diagnosis early so that proper treatment can begin. Some musculoskeletal problems respond best to treatment in the early stages of the disease.
Because some rheumatic diseases are complex, one visit to a rheumatologist may not be enough to get a diagnosis and treatment plan. These diseases tend to be chronic (long term) and often change over time. Sometimes they get worse, and sometimes they go away for a while and then return. Rheumatologists work closely with patients to find the problem and design a treatment plan.