What Kind of Tests Does a Rheumatologist Do?
A rheumatologist is a physician who has specialized skills and training in the diagnosis and nonsurgical treatment of chronic musculoskeletal and autoimmune conditions, which can affect bones, joints, muscles, tendons and other connective tissues throughout the body.
Because rheumatologists address more than 200 similar but distinct illnesses and disorders, the diagnostic process can be complex. In addition to taking a comprehensive medical history and reviewing the patient’s symptoms, a rheumatologist will typically perform a number of tests, such as a physical examination, lab tests and imaging studies.
The Physical Examination
When performing a physical exam, a rheumatologist will generally:
- Examine the patient’s body from head to toe, including his or her eyes, mouth and skin
- Look for signs of inflammation, such as swelling, warmth, redness, rashes or nodules
- Take the patient’s pulse
- Listen to the patient’s heart, lungs and bowels
- Check for joint tenderness by gently pressing on the patient’s joints
- Ask the patient to bend, flex and stretch certain joints and muscles
- Compare the same joints on each side of the patient’s body
A rheumatologist may order a blood test to check for signs of inflammation, such as:
- Anti-cyclic citrullinated peptides (anti-CCP)
- Elevated levels of C-reactive proteins
- An accelerated erythrocyte sedimentation rate (the speed at which blood settles to the bottom of a test tube)
- Rheumatoid factors
The rheumatologist may also order a joint fluid test to check the synovial fluid for proteins, signs of infection and a lack of thickness.
A rheumatologist may order one or more imaging studies, such as an X-ray, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or ultrasound scan. The results may reveal signs of inflammation, joint damage or bone loss.
The Next Step
Based on the outcome of the diagnostic process, the rheumatologist will develop an appropriate treatment plan, which may include lifestyle changes, medications, injections and/or physical therapy. Prompt treatment can make a true difference by helping to relieve pain, reduce inflammation and prevent joint damage.
If you’d like to see a rheumatologist, contact Advanced Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine in Houston, Texas, today.
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