Rheumatology and Rheumatologist Medical Terms

Subspecialty that focuses on rheumatic diseases

Discussing shoulder problems with a doctor

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If you have joint pain that persists or if you suspect that you may have arthritis, you will consult with your doctor at some point. Hopefully, sooner rather than later. When you do, you will start to hear medical terminology that may seem unfamiliar, including "rheumatology" and "rheumatologist". It's important for you to understand the meaning of terms that will be a part of your ongoing care if you have entered the world of arthritis.

The Meaning of Rheumatology

Rheumatology is a subspecialty of internal medicine, focused on the diagnosis and treatment of rheumatic diseases.

What Is a Rheumatologist?

Doctors who specialize in rheumatology are referred to as rheumatologists. They diagnose and treat rheumatic diseases, which includes various types of arthritis, with non-surgical treatment options. Rheumatologists can also specialize in pediatric rheumatology (treating children with rheumatic diseases).

How Much Education and Training Is Required?

In the United States, rheumatology training involves a bachelor's degree followed by four years of medical school, one year of internship in internal medicine, two years of internal medicine residency, and two years of rheumatology fellowship. The American Board of Internal Medicine oversees the board certification of qualified rheumatologists.

What People With Arthritis Symptoms Want to Know

Typically, people who are experiencing early arthritis symptoms are unsure if it is necessary to consult with a rheumatologist. They likely have an existing relationship and good rapport with a primary care provider. Most people think that their primary care provider can manage all of their maladies. In fact, if you have osteoarthritis symptoms (the most common type of arthritis), most primary care providers can diagnose and treat the condition, especially if it is an uncomplicated case. However, there are cases that become advanced, necessitating a rheumatology or orthopedic surgery consult. But, in most cases, osteoarthritis is managed by primary care providers.

For more complicated types of arthritis (including inflammatory types of arthritis, connective tissue diseases, and autoimmune diseases), a rheumatology consult is necessary and extremely helpful. Ask your doctor for a referral, if it hasn't already been suggested. Rheumatologists have the specialty training required to diagnose and differentiate between various rheumatic diseases. Rheumatologists also are knowledgeable about disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs, biologic drugs, and which drug combinations can be most effective for the patient. 

Rheumatologists understand the latest treatment guidelines issued by the American College of Rheumatology, how to monitor the effectiveness and safety of drugs which are prescribed, and when another treatment option should be tried instead of or in addition to the current treatment regimen. Simply put, rheumatologists know how to pull together the optimal treatment plan for an individual in order to slow the progression of their disease, preserve joint function, and maintain their quality of life. 

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Article Sources

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  • What Is a Rheumatologist? American College of Rheumatology. Updated April 2015.

  • Webster's New World Medical Dictionary. Second Edition. F. Hecht MD and W. Shiel, MD. Page 355. Rheumatology.