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Rheumatology is a subspecialty of internal medicine dedicated to the diagnosis and treatment of rheumatic diseases or musculoskeletal conditions. Rheumatic diseases affect the joints and connective tissues, cartilage and tendons.
There are over 200 rheumatic diseases and syndromes and many of these conditions are considered autoimmune diseases. Autoimmune diseases ensue from an abnormal response of the body’s immune system against its own tissues. Over 45 million people in the US are coping with some type of rheumatic disease.
Giant Cell Arteritis
A rheumatologist is an internist with specific training and experience in the diagnosis and treatment of musculoskeletal diseases and autoimmune conditions called rheumatic diseases. These diseases can cause pain, swelling, stiffness and deformity of joints, tendons, bones and muscles.
Practicing rheumatologists have completed four years of medical or osteopathic education, three years of residency in internal medicine or pediatrics, and a two year rheumatology fellowship. All practicing rheumatologists require testing to become board certified.
While rheumatic disease affects each body differently, its impact can seriously affect your health and sense of well-being. Some common symptoms of rheumatic disease include: Swelling in one or more joints. For instance, this might be your wrist, elbow, or knee, or one of the smaller joints in the hands or feet. Stiffness around your joints that lasts for at least 1 hour, starting in the early morning. Joint pain or tenderness. This pain may come and go, or hurt all the time. Inflammation. Your joint can look red or feel warm to the touch.
If you are experiencing symptoms of rheumatic disease, you should talk to your doctor immediately and ask whether you should see a rheumatologist. The first weeks and months following the onset of rheumatic disease symptoms are known as the “window of opportunity”, and it’s crucial that patients get appropriate treatment in that time period to avoid long-term complications. Treatment early in the disease — even within the first 12 weeks for some patients— can prevent damage to joints and other organs, improve long-term function, and increase the likelihood of achieving disease remission.
If left untreated, rheumatic diseases cause progressive damage to affected organs and joints. Substantial research demonstrates that early and aggressive treatment significantly improves patient outcomes. A recent study shows that patients who receive treatment within 12 weeks of disease onset report nearly 30 percent less pain after 36 months than those patients who receive treatment after 12 weeks.