A rheumatologist is an internal medicine doctor or pediatrician who has specialized training and qualification in the diagnosis and treatment of rheumatic diseases affecting the musculoskeletal system, including the joints, muscles, bones, and surrounding tissues.
What Rheumatologists Treat
With over 100 known types of rheumatic disease, rheumatologists are instrumental in the treatment of complex conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, gout, lupus, and fibromyalgia, among others.
When to See a Rheumatologist for Arthritis
Many times pain in the joints is relatively minor and will subside after a few days of modified activity and rest. If pain becomes worse or persists for a week or more, an underlying medical condition may be to blame and an appointment should be made with a general practitioner.
Often the diagnosis and cause of these conditions can be unclear and thus beyond the capabilities of a general practitioner. At this point, a rheumatologist may be consulted to ensure an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment plan are developed.
Early treatment is often the best treatment, but many rheumatic diseases are difficult to identify until they enter later stages. Rheumatologists are specially trained to detect the causes of pain and swelling that may evade the general practitioner, and thus allow earlier, more effective forms of treatment. Treatment is usually based around the use of medications and the coordination of care among other types of healthcare professionals who treat arthritis.
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Training to Become a Rheumatologist
Like all other medical doctors, rheumatologists must complete four years of medical school followed by three years of training (residency) in pediatrics or internal medicine. In addition, rheumatologists complete two or three years of specialized rheumatology training in a rheumatology fellowship before sitting for a national exam for board certification. Continuing education and recertification every 10 years is required for all physicians receiving their board certification after 1990.