If you or your primary care physician suspects that you could have rheumatoid arthritis, it makes sense for you to receive a referral to a rheumatologist. Some of the most common symptoms of this chronic disorder include:
- Swollen joints
- Warm or tender joints
- Stiffness in the joints
- Unintended weight loss
You may understandably feel anxious about the potential diagnosis as well as what you can expect during your visit with a specialist. Along with anxiety, you may also feel a sense of hope that you might finally get an explanation for your symptoms. Below, we outline the five major components of a visit to a rheumatologist so you go into the appointment confident of what to expect.
Review of Your Medical History
Before your rheumatologist can help you, he or she needs to understand the medical history that brought you to the appointment in the first place. This often means filling out a stack of paperwork, which can be physically painful for someone with symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. If you think this will be a problem, ask the scheduler if you can receive and complete the paperwork electronically in advance of your appointment. If that isn’t possible, complete the medical forms using an ergonomic pen to help reduce pain.
To prepare for the appointment, find out if any family members currently have rheumatoid arthritis or another autoimmune disorder. It is also important to learn as much as you can about the medical history of extended family such as aunts and uncles, as well as people from earlier generations who have passed away.
The rheumatologist will want to know about any prescription or non-prescription medications that you take as well. Since every doctor asks this, it can save you writing time to type up a list and simply attach it to the medical request form.
This is your opportunity to describe the physical symptoms you have been experiencing to the rheumatologist. Since it can be challenging to remember everything when asked to list your symptoms, take some time before your appointment to consider anything you think might be related to this diagnosis and write it down. Providing details such as how often the symptoms occur, what you think triggers them, and their severity is also helpful for this appointment.
Next, expect the rheumatologist to press on each of your joints to gauge your pain reaction. This tells him or her how many and which of your joints are tender or inflamed. Be sure to share how the pressure makes you feel. Your rheumatologist may even ask you to rate the pressure on a scale of 1 to 10 or simply say whether it is mildly or extremely painful.
Taking an X-ray of the joints that you report as painful helps your rheumatologist to see your joints from the inside. Additionally, the images show any joint damage as well as the degree of inflammation that has already occurred. As your rheumatoid arthritis or other autoimmune disorder progresses, having a baseline set of X-rays helps your doctor determine the progression level of your disease.
Sometimes X-rays are not sufficient for the rheumatologist to see inside of your joints. If your doctor decides to use an ultrasound machine, you will be able to see images of your joints on a screen at the same time. He or she will point out any inflammation as well as explain to you how severe it is. Comparing ultrasound images of a person with rheumatoid arthritis to someone without the condition helps to confirm the diagnosis even better. Your rheumatologist may or may not decide to do this.
You can expect to submit at least one blood sample so your rheumatologist can run some tests. However, it is important to understand that the blood tests alone usually cannot tell him or her if you have rheumatoid arthritis or another inflammatory condition. Even so, blood work typically does provide several important clues to aid in making a diagnosis. At present, no blood test exists that can help to confirm rheumatoid arthritis with complete accuracy. Approximately 30 percent of patients have the condition even though their blood work gives no indication of it.
An Accurate Diagnosis is the First Step in Feeling Better
Living with rheumatoid arthritis takes a toll on your quality of life. It is also a chronic condition that never goes away completely. That is the bad news. The good news is that you can learn to manage it. Once you have a proper diagnosis, some of the treatment possibilities include:
- Physical therapy
- Lifestyle changes such as stress reduction, eating healthier, and getting moderate exercise
- Non-prescription medications such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and/or prescription medications that can include biological therapies, disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs, or steroids
- Surgery for the repair of badly damaged joints
If you have been struggling with possible symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis but still don’t have a diagnosis, we encourage you to ask your primary physician for a referral or call UHC Rheumatology at 681-342-3490 for more information on how to obtain one.
Please note, the information provided throughout this site is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. All content, including text, graphics, images, and video, on or available through this website is for general information purposes only. If you are experiencing related symptoms, please visit your doctor or call 9-1-1 in an emergency.