A rheumatologist is trained to evaluate your symptoms and treat your condition if you suffer from pain or disorders of the bones, muscles, tendons, joints, and other connective tissues.
Most patients are referred to a rheumatologist after meeting with their primary care provider to discuss symptoms of joint pain and swelling. There are over 100 rheumatological conditions that affect humans including musculoskeletal pain disorders and autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis.
Unfortunately, many of these conditions do not have a cure, but experts believe that early identification and treatment are crucial for controlling the progression of the disease.
The sooner you can meet with a rheumatologist, and get a firm diagnosis and treatment plan in place, the better.
It can be daunting meeting with your rheumatologist for the first time. Even when you have been diagnosed for a while, you can still find yourself leaving appointments feeling frustrated or confused.
Here are our tips on getting the most from rheumatology appointments.
What to expect at your first rheumatology appointment
When you visit a rheumatologist, he or she will ask you about your symptoms, and your medical history. There will be a physical examination during which your rheumatologist will gently touch your hands, shoulders, and knees, to feel for swelling and heat coming off of the inflamed joints.
He/she may also prescribe medications or request X-rays, ultrasound or blood tests to arrive at the correct diagnosis, so be sure to allow plenty of time in case you need to take these tests on the same day.
Once your consultation is complete, your rheumatologist will suggest when you must make the next appointment.
Describe your symptoms as accurately as possible
Your rheumatologist is going to diagnose your condition partly on the basis of your symptoms. Therefore, if you can describe your symptoms accurately, the chances of a correct diagnosis and, consequently, treatment, are increased manifold.
To ensure that you do not miss out on anything, jot down your symptoms in a diary or a tracking app and bring it along to the appointments.
Here’s what you should look out for:
- Where in the body do you feel the pain? Is it in the same place every day?
- Is there any particular time of the day when the pain is better or worse? For example, do your joints feel stiff when you wake up in the morning, and if so how long does that last for?
- Is there any particular physical activity, work stress, or food that you think is exacerbating the symptoms?
- Do you have any other symptoms apart from pain? E.g. fatigue, brain fog, inflammation?
- For how long have you had these symptoms?
- Was there any period during which the pain had subsided?
- Does anyone in your family suffer from a similar condition?
- What medications are you are currently taking?
No question is too stupid to ask – speak up!
You must not hesitate to ask questions regarding your condition, and the prescribed treatment.
There are no stupid questions when it comes to your health, and if the rheumatologist uses terminology that you do not understand, ask for clarity, and don't allow yourself to feel rushed if you need a deeper explanation.
It’s easy to forget your questions when you are in the appointment, so prepare a checklist in advance, You can include questions like:
- Should I use the affected joints/muscles or should I rest when I am in pain?
- What can I use to treat my symptoms?
- How long will it take for me to feel the positive effects of my prescription medication?
- What kind of side effects can I expect with my prescription medication and how likely are they to occur?
- What should I do if I have a sudden flare?
- Do I need to change my diet or avoid certain foods?
- Are there any vitamins or supplements I can take to improve my condition?
- Do I have any other options in alternative medicine?
- Can you recommend resources and support groups I could join to learn more about living with my condition?
This, by no means, is a comprehensive list of questions to ask during your appointment. Taking some time to think it through in advance, and writing it down makes you less likely that you will walk out of the appointment feeling frustrated.
Make notes during the appointment
A rheumatologist is trained to diagnose your condition and develop a long-term treatment plan tailored to your medical needs. He or she may also share tips and advice during your appointment that could help you manage your symptoms better.
It can feel weird taking notes, but we strongly recommended to note down the conversation with your rheumatologist either using your phone or a paper notebook.
Some rheumatologists will even print out a summary of the visit and your prescriptions for you.
Bring a friend for support
If you are feeling daunted or if you are dealing with difficult emotions related to your diagnosis, consider bringing a friend or relative along to the appointment for reassurance and moral support. You can even give them your list of questions so that they can ask anything that you might miss.
If you are likely to receive any treatments or tests during your appointment - e.g. cortisone shots or blood tests - you might find it helpful to have someone who can drive you home afterward.
Still not sure what to expect?
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