If you or your general physician suspect you may have rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, or a similar autoimmune condition, then you will likely be referred to a rheumatologist — a doctor who specializes in these conditions — for diagnosis and treatment. As with seeing any specialist, that first appointment can be a little nerve-wracking if you do not know what to expect. So here's what tends to happen at patients' first rheumatologist appointments.
1. Discuss Your Medical History
Family history and your own health history are very important in diagnosing autoimmune diseases. Your doctor will want to know, in plenty of detail, about any health conditions your immediate family members have been diagnosed with. They will also want to know about all of your own prior diagnoses, and probably also about any undiagnosed symptoms and ailments you have suffered from over the years.
Autoimmune conditions can present very differently in different patients, so do not assume anything is irrelevant or not worth mentioning. Your doctor will probably also ask you questions about your lifestyle, such as where you work, how much sleep you get, and what you eat. Answer as completely and as honestly as you can.
2. Undergo a Complete Physical Exam
After the discussion part of the exam, your rheumatologist will likely conduct a complete physical exam. Expect them to be far more thorough than your general doctor. They will want to look over all of your skin and flex all of your joints. This may be a little uncomfortable, particularly if your joints are sore, but it should not be overly painful. During the physical exam, your rheumatologist will also listen to your heart and lungs using a stethoscope.
3. Get Blood Tests
Finally, your rheumatologist will take a blood sample to send to the lab. At some doctor's offices, the nurse will come in and collect the blood sample rather than the doctor doing this. The blood will be sent away, and your doctor will explain what the lab will be looking for. In most cases, they'll be looking for certain antibodies and for a high white blood cell count to indicate you have an autoimmune disease. You should get the results within a few days.
Since rheumatoid arthritis and other auto-immune conditions are diagnosed based on health history, symptoms, and blood test results in most cases, the format above is to be expected at your first visit to a rheumatologist. Contact services like Sarasota Arthritis Center to learn more about your first appointment.