August 27, 2022

When Should I Contact a Rheumatologist?

Over 54 million people suffer from rheumatic diseases in the United States alone. That’s more than one in every five adults.

Rheumatic disease is an umbrella term for conditions caused by dysfunction of the body’s autoimmune system and musculoskeletal system.

In these conditions, a person’s immune system attacks healthy joints and tissues instead of invasive germs. The most common rheumatic diseases cause inflammation and swelling in joints, muscles, skin, or internal organs.

But, inflammation can also be caused by other conditions. Moreover, pain and other symptoms may be more obvious than inflammation at first. So, when to see a rheumatologist?

On the one hand, you want to get a diagnosis quickly.  The sooner you start treatment for a condition like rheumatoid arthritis, for example, the easier it is to prevent permanent joint degeneration.

But, you also don’t want to book what may be an expensive appointment and take time out of your day, only to be told your problem is something else. So, how should you make the call?

In this guide, discover what symptoms to be on the alert for, and when it’s time to call a specialist.

What is a Rheumatologist?

A rheumatologist is a medical specialist. They study, diagnose, and treat a range of rheumatic conditions.

Rheumatologists have over a decade of specialized education. In addition to treating autoimmune conditions, rheumatologists also treat inflammatory pain due to injury or illness.

When to contact a rheumatologist

When to See a Rheumatologist: Signs and Symptoms

In their early stages, rheumatic conditions are easy to confuse with other problems. The first symptom that usually catches a person’s attention is pain.

If you experience pain throughout your body in your joints, bones, muscles, neck, or back, that is a key sign of rheumatic disease. Contact a rheumatologist if the pain persists for three or more days.

Common Rheumatic Symptoms

If you see experience symptoms of common rheumatic conditions, contacting a rheumatologist is wise. Different rheumatic disorders have different symptoms. The most common are:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Lupus
  • Scleroderma
  • Sjogren’s disease
  • Ankylosing spondylitis (AS)

Swollen, stiff, and painful joints are symptoms of several of these conditions. Fatigue and shortness of breath are also common.

Lupus can cause a butterfly-shaped rash on the face. And lupus, scleroderma, and Sjogren’s affect the skin in other ways. Tight, hard, dry, or thick skin, can indicate a rheumatic disorder—as can skin and mouth dryness.

Rheumatologist or Primary Care Physician?

If you have symptoms that are, currently mild-to-moderate, it’s reasonable to connect with your primary care physician first.

Your primary care physician can order blood tests that check for inflammation markers or an X-ray to check your bones. Certain tests can also rule out conditions with similar symptoms, like allergies or hormone deficiencies.

Your primary care physician will likely refer you to a rheumatologist if the test results point to a rheumatic problem.

However, if your primary care physician’s diagnosis is unclear, it’s a good idea to seek out a rheumatologist—even if they don’t refer you specifically. This is even more urgent if you have a history of rheumatic disease in your family.

Primary Care Physicians Can Be Wrong

It can even be wise to seek out a rheumatologist when a primary care physician recommends against it.

Studies of patients diagnosed with lupus have found a significant number of doctors who dismissed or misdiagnosed the patients’ symptoms. This leads to a late diagnosis, and it exacerbates the mental health impact of the condition.

If you think you have a rheumatic condition, it’s good to talk to a rheumatologist—even if your primary care physician doesn’t agree.

Contact Treasure Valley Rheumatology

At Treasure Valley, we’re experts. Our medical teams know what to look for when we listen, diagnose, and treat rheumatic diseases.

Still wondering when to see a rheumatologist? Why not contact us right now?