Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can be overwhelming because it affects so many areas of your life. The good news is that there are healthcare professionals to assist you with just about all of your needs. However, one provider will be pivotal to your care and that’s your rheumatologist.
What Is a Rheumatologist?
Rheumatologists are either internal medicine doctors or pediatricians with special training in the diagnosis and treatment of arthritis and other rheumatic diseases. Arthritis is one type of rheumatic disease, which includes many different disorders that affect your connective tissue or structures supporting your body: Joints, tendons, ligaments, bones and muscles. Rheumatologists care for people with RA, osteoarthritis (OA), gout, lupus, and back pain. Most rheumatologists choose to become board certified. Certified rheumatologists must keep up with the latest advances in their field and be recertified on a regular basis.
Why Do I Need a Specialist?
Rheumatic diseases tend to be complex, change with time, and can be difficult to diagnose. Because of this, a rheumatologist is the most qualified doctor to properly diagnose and treat your condition. It may still take multiple visits and tests to get the right diagnosis even with a rheumatologist. A rheumatologist will advise you about the most up-to-date treatment options and guidelines. He or she will work with you to develop a plan that’s right for you and adjust it as your disease changes.
Your Rheumatoid Arthritis Treatment Team
In addition to seeing a rheumatologist, your RA healthcare team should include a multidisciplinary group of providers. The role your rheumatologist plays on your healthcare team will depend on a variety of factors. In some cases, your rheumatologist will take the lead in managing your treatment. Other times, your rheumatologist will advise other healthcare providers how to best coordinate your care. Regardless of who takes the lead, every member of your team will be working towards a common goal: To help you feel your best.
Your healthcare team may vary based on availability in your area and the severity of your RA. Your rheumatoid arthritis healthcare team may include:
Primary care doctor to provide regular physical exams, routine screenings, and other preventive care. Your primary care doctor will also manage your other basic medical conditions.
Physical therapist to assess your physical needs and design a plan to meet your goals. A physical therapist can help you increase your flexibility, muscle strength, and endurance—key abilities to have to support your joints, relieve pain, and prevent disability.
Occupational therapist to help you maintain independence in caring for yourself, your family, your home, and your work. An occupational therapist can teach you new ways to approach challenging tasks and provide adaptive equipment to help in your everyday life.
Social worker to steer you through the healthcare system and find solutions to your social and financial problems related to RA.
Psychologist or psychiatrist to provide support and counseling for the emotional aspects of RA.
Podiatrist to ensure you have properly fitting footwear and good foot hygiene to prevent ulcerations and foot infections, a possible complication of RA. A podiatrist can also fit you with orthotics to reduce pain.
Finally, you are the most important member of your healthcare team. Your involvement in your treatment will make the most difference in your care. Be an active team member: Keep your own notes and records, ask questions, and don't be afraid to communicate your needs.Your healthcare team is there to help you.