In this series, we will pose some common questions related to rheumatology and help you understand more about rheumatology and the diseases in rheumatology.
Who is a rheumatologist? Why do you need to see a rheumatologist?
Your primary care doctor might have suggested you see a rheumatologist. You might be wondering who is a rheumatologist, and what they do.
Rheumatologists are doctors who have received special training on how to treat joint, muscle, and bone-related conditions. Some of the common conditions include rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, gout-related arthritis, and osteoarthritis. In addition, rheumatologists have expertise in the treatment of multiple auto-immune conditions. One such condition is systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). Many people think of rheumatologists as “joint doctors”, as they treat multiple types of conditions which could lead to joint-related symptoms or simply called arthritis. Most rheumatologists complete three years of training in internal medicine, followed by two to three years of training in rheumatology.
One of the most common symptoms that might prompt referral to rheumatology is chronic joint pain. If your primary care doctor is unclear on what might be the cause of your joint pain, he/she might refer you to a rheumatologist. Unexplained skin rashes could be a symptom of an underlying autoimmune condition, which might also require evaluation by a rheumatologist. Some of you might have unexplained symptoms and signs affecting multiple organs without a clear diagnosis. In such situations, a rheumatologist could help make a diagnosis.
What is an auto-immune disease?
Auto-immune diseases are diseases due to dysfunctional immune function. The primary goal of our immune function is to protect us from infections. When a foreign organism (bacteria or virus) attacks our body, the immune system acts as a defense and protects us from such invaders. The immune system is activated by such organisms and it shuts down after such organisms are killed. In cases of auto-immune diseases, the immune system is activated even in the absence of any infections. After it is activated, it is not shut down leading to continued inflammation. Such uncontrolled inflammation leads to dysfunction of the organ affected, such as if a joint, causes joint pain and swelling. If the affected organ is a kidney (in the case of kidney lupus) it causes kidney dysfunction.