You may have heard someone say they have “rheumatism” before. But other than hearing the name, you probably didn’t know what they meant other than that it is a medical condition. In many cases, people who say they have rheumatism are referring to rheumatoid arthritis. Arthritis is a condition in which people experience joint pain whenever they move, often referred to as “rheumatism.”
So far, so good. But does that mean you see a rheumatologist only when you have rheumatoid arthritis? The short answer is: No. Rheumatology is a broad field of medicine that deals with many degenerative conditions or diseases that affect the musculoskeletal system, and rheumatoid arthritis is just one of those conditions.
Rheumatology Addresses Numerous Musculoskeletal Disorders
Rheumatology is a branch of medicine that focuses on diagnosing and treating musculoskeletal diseases. Some common rheumatologic conditions include osteoarthritis, lupus, gout, fibromyalgia, osteoporosis, and scleroderma. Rheumatology focuses on diagnosing, treating, and preventing these diseases of the joints, muscles, and bones.
A critical factor in many of these diseases is that they are autoimmune disorders. Take, for example, rheumatoid arthritis. The term arthritis is a general term that describes the degeneration of cartilage in the joints. In many cases, cartilage can get damaged from age and overuse. Thus, an athlete may get arthritis in his knees from the wear and tear he has put on his knee joints over time. But rheumatoid arthritis is different. It refers to a condition in which the cartilage is degenerating in multiple joints. Why? Unlike the athlete’s arthritis, the individual’s own immune system is causing inflammation in joints throughout the body.
Autoimmune disorders are so-named because the immune system, which is supposed to respond to ailments and injuries to the body, starts to attack healthy tissues instead. The result is that individuals can suffer various musculoskeletal disorders that cause pain, stiffness, swelling, and other discomforts. Some autoimmune conditions are ultimately fatal if left untreated, but fortunately, many can be managed.
When Should I See a Rheumatologist?
Rheumatology is not limited to a specific condition, and the types of rheumatic conditions vary greatly. In most cases, you will only know you need to see a rheumatologist if your primary physician refers you to one. Typical symptoms that indicate you may need to see a rheumatologist include experiencing:
- Chronic pain, stiffness, or swelling in more than one joint
- Overall and persistent fatigue
- Unexplained weight loss
- Hair loss
- General weakness
- Rashes or lesions on the skin
There are over 100 conditions classified as rheumatic, and these symptoms are common indicators. At the same time, these symptoms are so general that there can be multiple explanations for them, some of which are not rheumatic.
To diagnose whether a patient has a rheumatic condition, a rheumatologist will conduct a physical exam, ask about the patient’s medical history, and order a blood test. Unfortunately, blood tests are often indicative rather than dispositive. It can take some time before a rheumatic condition is accurately diagnosed, and it may require a battery of other tests, including imaging tests like X-rays or MRIs, to look at the affected parts of the body.
Although rheumatic problems are in the muscles or bones, they typically cannot be addressed through radical interventions like surgery. Instead, most are managed through medications, physical therapy, and changes in lifestyle and diet. These management therapies are not generally curative. Instead, they are designed to relieve patients of the worst aspects of these symptoms, improve quality of life and longevity, and reduce the risk of exacerbation or future complications.
Introducing Beacon Rheumatology
Beacon has built a thriving and respected practice providing patients with comprehensive cancer care. As Beacon expands its practice, it has embarked on a new medical specialty: Beacon Rheumatology. Like our core cancer care practice, we recognize that medical treatment for rheumatic conditions is not a medical problem that works on a “one and done” basis. Instead, they require a broad spectrum of services that involve medical treatment, lifestyle support, and managed long-term care. Beacon Cancer Care has pioneered a whole-health approach to patient medical care. We are extending our practice into building relationships with rheumatology patients to help them live their best lives.
If you’re experiencing joint pain, stiffness, or swelling or have already been diagnosed with a rheumatologic condition and need specialized care, it’s time to see a rheumatologist. Contact Beacon Rheumatology today.