Riverside Medical Clinic’s rheumatology department diagnoses and treats musculoskeletal disease and systemic autoimmune conditions. It’s part of a group of diseases that can affect your joints, muscles and bones causing pain, stiffness and sometimes, deformity. Common conditions that rheumatologists treat include…
Your immune system normally guards your body against invaders, such as bacteria. It produces antibodies and cells to fight off the bad germs. With an immune system disorder, the body mistakes part of itself as the enemy and attacks it – usually your joints, skin or tissue, although all diseases are different. For example, in the case of rheumatoid arthritis, the immune system produces antibodies that attack the lining of the joints. This causes inflammation, swelling, pain and, if left untreated, permanent joint damage. In the case of type 1 diabetes, the immune system mistakenly attacks an organ, the pancreas.
Often the symptoms, like fatigue, muscle aches, swelling and redness, come and go. They may even seem to flare up at certain times and go away for a while, too.
Your first visit with a rheumatologist will be as much of a conversation as an examination. Your doctor is acting like a detective at this point, putting clues together to get to the cause. He will look for signs of inflammation in the body and ask about your family’s medical history. You’ll also be asked a lot of questions about what activities cause pain, what makes you feel better and what makes you feel worse.
There’s no single test to diagnose autoimmune disease. Your doctor will want to check your blood and urine for extra proteins and peptides/antibodies. The antinuclear antibody test (ANA) will check for antibodies that attack healthy proteins in the nucleus of your cells. While it’s normal to have some ANA, having too many can indicate the presence of an autoimmune disease. X-rays and MRIs may be needed to spot signs of joint damage. With all you’ve shared, your rheumatologist will then have enough information to decide on next steps in your treatment plan. It could involve a combination of over-the-counter medicines for pain, steroids to ease swelling, certain prescription drugs to combat inflammation, physical therapy to make you stronger and lifestyle changes.
Rheumatologists complete three years of extra training after medical school with a residency in either internal medicine or pediatrics. Some receive training in both. After their residency, they undertake a two or three year fellowship to learn more about chronic musculoskeletal and autoimmune conditions. Then they take an exam to become board certified. This must be retaken every ten years. In addition, they receive continuing education in the field every year.