close icon



News & Insights

Rheumatology treatment

What is a Rheumatologist: What Do They Treat?

When you hear the word rheumatologist, even if you have no clue what kind of a specialty it is, chances are that you would be able to make a great educated guess. So, what is a rheumatologist? What does it sound like? Well, to be completely honest, it sounds like a doctor who treats rheumatoid arthritis. While this answer is correct, it’s also incomplete.

You see, rheumatoid arthritis is just one disease that a rheumatologist treats. They specialize in providing treatment and guidance for people with autoimmune conditions, especially with musculoskeletal autoimmune diseases, osteoporosis, and other general bone and joint troubles.

Here’s what you should know about rheumatologists, how you can recognize if you have one, and what you can expect when contacting them. This way, you’ll never have to rely on making an educated guess again.

What Does a Rheumatologist Treat? 

Perhaps the best way to explain rheumatologists would be to say what they treat. The list of potential illnesses that fall under their specialty is pretty long, and some of the items are:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Systemic lupus erythematosus
  • Psoriatic arthritis
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Gout
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Osteoporosis

These are just the most common items you’ve heard of on the list. As you can see, the main focus is the illnesses that affect:

  • Musculoskeletal system
  • Joints
  • Connective tissues

Another thing worth pointing out is that many items on the list are also autoimmune disorders (like lupus).

What Symptoms does a Rheumatologist Look for?

Symptoms are important for both the rheumatologist and the patient. Based on the symptoms, the rheumatologist can decide whether further medical examination is needed. On the other hand, a patient feeling these symptoms will know to go to the rheumatologist.

The thing is that you’ll usually go to a general medical practitioner and tell them about your problems. Subsequently, they’ll direct you to a rheumatologist. You can also bypass this entire ordeal and go straight to a specialized practice or a clinic.

  • The first group of symptoms is related to one’s joints. Pain, stiffness, and swelling in multiple joints are clear signs that you have a problem that a rheumatologist specializes in.
  • This will also be coupled with a limited range of motion, which may be worse in the morning. In fact, everything will feel worse in the morning, even the swelling, stiffness, and pain. This is one of the first questions that any rheumatologist will ask.
  • Because this is not just some random swelling but an autoimmune disease, they’ll also ask about your fatigue and send blood work to check for specific conditions and evaluate your internal organs. For instance, you can feel fatigued when suffering from rheumatoid arthritis because the disease also affects your lungs. Eye inflammation and skin changes are also fairly common here.

The key thing to remember is that not all symptoms are always present, and the degree to which they develop varies from one person to another. This is why, even when you have your suspicions, it’s still the safest to find rheumatology specialists to examine you. This is the only way to stay safe.

Reasons to See a Rheumatologist

The first thing we need to mention on this topic is that a rheumatologist:

  • Diagnoses
  • Prescribe medications
  • Recommend lifestyle changes
  • Educate patients
  • Collaborate with other medical experts in the treatment

As you could have already concluded from this list, a rheumatologist focuses on a non-surgical approach to the treatment.

An example of this would be rheumatology infusion treatment, which includes intravenous administration of medication or therapy. 

While this doesn’t sound too terrifying, it’s worth pointing out that it has to be done by a trained medical professional (ideally in a medical facility). The process should be supervised by a rheumatologist or a professional nurse (ideally the former), and they need access to a patient’s full medical history.

Lastly, we’ve already mentioned that these are diseases of joints, muscles, and connective tissues, and we all know that they sometimes require surgery. So, what is a rheumatologist doing in this situation? In that scenario, a rheumatologist will collaborate with an orthopedic surgeon (or a different kind of specialist).

Of course, every treatment is unique and depends on the disease in question. For instance…

Rheumatoid Arthritis 

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic autoimmune disease primarily affecting the joints. So far, this checks all the boxes of a condition treated by a rheumatologist we’ve previously described.

So, to explain a bit better, we’ll try to depict what a rheumatologist would do when faced with a (for example) rheumatoid arthritis

While rheumatoid arthritis has some pretty clear symptoms like symmetrical joint involvement, joint pain, stiffness, and swelling, this is not enough for a rheumatologist to diagnose fully. To be sure, other than just looking at the symptoms, they also need to:

  • Examine your medical history
  • Get joint imaging
  • Order specific blood tests

Blood tests are especially important since they will show things like:

  • Rheumatoid factor
  • Anti-cyclic citrullinated peptide
  • C-reactive protein levels
  • Erythrocyte sedimentation rate

Once they get the results, they will know for sure. So, what is a rheumatologist going to do when they get a confirmation of rheumatoid arthritis? Probably start with treatment.

First, they’ll prescribe one or more of the medications we’ve already listed (NSAIDs, corticosteroids, etc.). Then, they’ll regularly monitor how the situation develops and adjust the treatment. They will also prescribe physical therapy.

Patients can alleviate their pain and treat it more effectively with a few habit adjustments. This is why they’ll emphasize educating the patient as a factor that will make the biggest difference.

Wrap up

So, a rheumatologist is a specialist who focuses on diagnosing and non-surgical treatment of some autoimmune and musculoskeletal disorders. They specialize in diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis, lupus, and gout. In a scenario where surgery is needed, they will collaborate and coordinate with another specialist.

For those with any further concerns or questions, you can always find an expert in rheumatology at the Orthopedic Institute of New Jersey and ask away.

This article was reviewed and approved by an orthopedic surgeon as we place a high premium on accuracy for our patients and potential patients.