What is a rheumatologist?

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What is a rheumatologist?

It only makes sense that someone with rheumatoid arthritis would seek the help of a rheumatologist–a physician who is specially trained to diagnose and treat the disease.

But rheumatologists treat more than just rheumatoid arthritis. They treat a variety of rheumatic diseases, also known as autoimmune diseases, which occur when the body’s immune system attacks healthy cells. There are more than 100 rheumatic diseases, which can affect the joints, muscles, and bones, causing pain, swelling, stiffness, and deformity.

Autoimmune conditions occur when the immune system sends inflammation to areas of the body when it is not needed, causing damage and symptoms. These diseases can affect the eyes, skin, nervous system, and internal organs. Individuals may wonder when they should see a rheumatologist. According to the American College of Rheumatology, an individual’s primary care provider typically is the first to evaluate symptoms of muscle and joint pain. If a rheumatic condition is suspected, the individual may be referred to a rheumatologist.

The American College of Rheumatology notes that joint damage can occur if the symptoms of joint pain are ignored or not treated properly over a period of time. This damage cannot always be reversed with treatment and may be permanent.

Once a rheumatic disease is identified, the rheumatologist will develop a personalized treatment plan for the patient. This may include medications, referral to physical therapy or other specialists, or joint/tendon injections. Common diseases treated by rheumatologists – which affect the body’s connective tissues – include tendinitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, chronic back pain, and muscle/tendon strains. Other conditions include the following:

Rheumatoid arthritis

This is the most common type of autoimmune arthritis. It commonly affects the wrist and small joints of the hand, including the knuckles, and the middle joints of the fingers.


This is commonly referred to as “wear and tear” of the joints. It is a disease of the entire joint, involving the cartilage, joint lining, ligaments, and bone.


This common health problem causes widespread pain and tenderness all over the body, and is sensitive to touch.


This chronic disease causes pain and swelling. It can affect the skin, joints, and other organs, such as the kidneys, as well as tissue lining the lungs, heart, and brain.


This form of arthritis includes painful swelling in single joints, most often in the feet, especially the big toe..