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What is rheumatology?

Rheumatology is the branch of medicine that addresses diseases of the joints, muscles, bones and connective tissues.

Doctors who specialize in this field are called rheumatologists. They're trained in the causes, development, diagnosis and treatment of diseases and health problems such as:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Osteoarthritis.
  • Gout.
  • Lupus.
  • Back pain.
  • Osteoporosis.
  • Fibromyalgia.
  • Tendinitis.

Rheumatologists may work in hospitals, private practices, managed care practices, clinics or transitional care facilities.

Time to treat

You may be referred to a rheumatologist if you have severe pain or pain that's lasted more than a few days in a joint, muscle or bone.

A rheumatologist may use x-rays, muscle tests, blood analysis or other methods to find the cause of the pain. This process may take several visits, since rheumatic diseases can be very complex and can change or evolve over time.

Treatment of a rheumatic disease may include many healthcare providers, such as nurses, physical and occupational therapists, psychologists, and social workers. A team approach to rheumatic disease helps ensure that all of the symptoms and effects receive attention.

Treatment is designed to help people attain the best possible quality of life. The rheumatologist's role may include:

  • Advocating for people with rheumatic diseases with other healthcare providers, the community and lawmakers.
  • Educating people with rheumatic diseases and their families and communities.
  • Helping people with rheumatic diseases avoid disability and develop tools for coping with the disease.
  • Prescribing medicines.

How are they trained?

All doctors must earn a bachelor's degree and medical degree. Rheumatologists also have 3 years of training in either internal medicine or pediatrics and two to three years of specialized training in rheumatology.

Most rheumatologists also seek board certification. They must pass a comprehensive exam from the American Board of Internal Medicine to earn certification in rheumatology.

Learn more

For more information about rheumatology and rheumatic diseases, visit the American College of Rheumatology website, www.rheumatology.org.

reviewed 6/29/2016

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