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A Guide to Rheumatology

 A rheumatologist is a medical doctor that specializes in diseases of the joints, in other words, they specialize in arthritic problems. Rheumatology is noted for its diagnosis and treatment of systemic, autoimmune and inflammatory forms of arthritis. Rheumatologists treat joint diseases in a similar way to orthopedists, but they don’t actually perform surgery.

Some 54.4 million are affected by rheumatic diseases in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It strikes people of both genders and occurs in people of all races and ages. Some 300,000 children in the United States are afflicted by a rheumatic disease.

Although it isn’t every rheumatic disease that affects the spine, the ones that do can be extremely difficult to live with. The most common is osteoarthritis, which occurs when both the cartilage and bone begin to deteriorate.

Another group of rheumatic conditions that affect the spine includes spondyloarthropathies. It includes inflammatory conditions such as ankylosing spondylitis and axial spondylitis. Some types of spondyloarthropathies also affect the joints.

Ankylosing spondylitis, for example, affects the lower back most, but it can also affect hips, shoulders, and knees. Psoriatic arthritis can affect the spine, but it doesn’t in certain instances. With that being said, it always tends to affect the ends of fingers and toes. These are just two types of spondyloarthropathy that exist which are capable of damaging the spine as well as other areas of the body.

You should see a rheumatologist when your joints hurt, or if there are signs of inflammation such as redness, swelling, pain, stiffness, and loss of joint function that lasts for two days or more. You’ll likely need to see your primary care doctor before seeing a rheumatologist for a referral. Keep in mind that the earlier you see your primary care doctor, the sooner your ailment can be treated.

The American College of Rheumatology warns that autoimmune disorders and rheumatic diseases actually run in families. If your family members, regardless of whether they are immediate family member or not, have or had an autoimmune disorder or rheumatic disease, then you should definitely see a rheumatologist sooner rather than later.

Note that medications given to you by your primary care doctor will temporarily improve things, but that doesn’t mean that your symptoms won’t return. If this occurs, then you also need to see a rheumatologist.


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