First Visit to the Rheumatologist

Woman at rheumatologist
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A rheumatologist is a medical doctor who specializes in arthritis and related diseases. Most often, a patient is referred to a rheumatologist by their primary care physician after presenting symptoms of arthritis. When preparing for your first appointment with a rheumatologist, there are three main things you need to consider:

  • What should you take to the first appointment?
  • What can you expect at the first appointment?
  • What questions should you be prepared to ask?

What to Take

Take your insurance cards and a photo I.D. so that the office personnel can begin to build a medical file. Be prepared to fill out a medical history. Bring along information about any medications, herbs, and supplements you take, including:

  • The name of the drug, herb, or supplement
  • Dosage
  • Schedule (how often you take it)

Know the dates of pertinent visits to other doctors related to your current situation, including orthopedic surgeons and your primary doctor. Be able to describe your current symptoms and when they started. If you have prior x-rays that are related to your current symptoms, acquire the x-rays and reports so the information can be included. Bring information about past surgeries (procedures, dates, and the name of surgeons).

What to Expect

You will be taken to an examining room by a nurse or medical assistant. They will take your vital signs and ask you to briefly explain your symptoms and why you have been referred to the rheumatologist.

After making a few notes, the nurse or medical assistant will tell the rheumatologist you are ready for your examination and consultation. The rheumatologist will again ask you to explain your symptoms, in more detail, while examining you. Based on your answers and the findings from the examination, your rheumatologist will likely order more diagnostic tests (blood tests and x-rays).

What Questions Will Your Rheumatologist Ask?

Expect the rheumatologist to ask:

  • Where does it hurt?
  • What makes it feel better or worse?
  • When did you begin to feel the pain?
  • When do you typically feel pain?
  • Is the pain dull or sharp?
  • How long does the pain typically last?
  • Do you have swelling or redness of any joints?
  • Do your symptoms affect your ability to perform any daily tasks?
  • Have you injured the affected joint, been in an accident, or recently overused the joint that is affected?
  • Do any family members have the same or similar problem?
  • Arthritis risk factors

What Physical Evidence Will Your Rheumatologist Observe?

During the physical exam, your rheumatologist will look for visible evidence of arthritis, including:

The range of motion of your joints will also be assessed.

The combination of your medical history, physical examination, and diagnostic test results will help your rheumatologist decide whether or not you have arthritis and what type of arthritis you have. Arthritis is not a single disease. There are over 100 types of arthritis and related conditions.

Questions You Should Ask

Following the medical history and examination, you will have the opportunity to ask questions. Have your questions pre-planned as much as possible and written down, so you will be less likely to forget. Preparedness will afford you the best chance of having a successful appointment with your rheumatologist. Consider asking your rheumatologist the following questions:

  • Do I have arthritis?
  • What type of arthritis do you suspect?
  • What treatment will be tried initially?
  • What is the reason for each medication prescribed? (For example, is it a painkiller or an anti-inflammatory drug?)
  • When should I expect to notice an improvement?
  • If this treatment plan does not work, what would be my next option?
  • How will you monitor my progress or the possibility of adverse effects?
  • Will I require routine blood tests?
  • What else should I consider to help manage my arthritis? (For example, exercise, weight control, natural therapies, and/or joint protection)

Early diagnosis and proper management of arthritis are imperative. A successful initial consultation can start you in a positive direction.

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