A patient consults a rheumatologist doctor in office, and hands them a paper with all of their symptoms to go over together.

3 Tips For Your First Rheumatologist Visit

The first time you hear that you need to see a specialist of any kind is scary. Your mind is reeling. What is going on? I have what? What does this mean? Your mind automatically starts going to all the scary places. Because that first specialist appointment can seem quite overwhelming.

Choosing a rheumatologist

The good news about seeing a specialist is that they are just that. They are specialized in the condition you possibly have. In most cases when you are sent to a specialist whatever condition your primary doctor thinks you may have is just a possibility. Once you see that specialist they will run more specialized blood work and do a more detailed exam. They may even order more extensive imagining to determine if the potential condition is indeed what you have.

For instance, the first visit with any rheumatologist will include a very detailed physical exam where the physician will look for any joint swelling or nodules that indicate swelling. In most cases, they will also order further lab tests and x rays as a means of determining which rheumatologic condition you may have. But like any condition, your rheumatologist will likely need to see you more than once to make a definite diagnosis.

3 tips for your first rheumatologist visit

To help make the first appointment easier for you and your physician, keep these 3 tips in mind:

1. Keep a record of your symptoms and bring that with you to your appointment

The most familiar you are with what is going on with your body the easier the conversation will be with the doctor. And the more likely the doctor will be to diagnose with the appropriate condition. You note should include:

  • Pain - Where in your body do you hurt?
  • Description of the pain – Is it stabbing, aching, dull, throbbing? When do you hurt? Is there are a time of day when the pain is better? Or a time of day when the pain is worse. What date did the pain start? When, if ever, did the pain stop? Include the date.
  • Any other symptoms you have besides pain (joint, bone, or muscle) such as fatigue, inability to sleep, rash, etc.
  • How long you have been experiencing your symptoms.
  • What you think might be the cause of your problem. (Does any kind of activity, or stress, or type of food improve or worsen your symptoms?)
  • List of any medications you are currently taking.
  • List of any allergies.
  • List of medical history if this provider is not linked to current providers.
  • If you have any images, like x rays, or ultrasounds, or MRIs or CTS cans on CD it won't hurt to bring them with you to the dr just in case.

2. Don’t be afraid to ask questions during your appointment

In fact, it can be easy to forget to ask the questions that you wanted because you get wrapped up in the discussion, So It is never a bad idea to write down the questions you feel are important that you really want to ask the doctor, so you won't forget. Should you forget most offices have no problem with you reaching out after the appointment either by voicemail or email to ask a question that you forgot.

Some common questions that are asked during an initial rheumatology appointment are:

  • When my joints hurt, what should I do? Should I continue to use it? Or should I rest it?
  • How should I treat the pain? Heat? Tylenol? Ibuprofen? Rest? Ice?
  • I often wake up in the morning aching. Does that mean I need a different mattress? Is there something I can do so I will wake up not aching?
  • Do I need to change my diet and avoid hot or spicy foods?
  • Are there some kinds of vitamins or supplements available that I should be taking to help the inflammation?
  • If you prescribe me a medication, will I have to take it for the rest of my life? Or will I possibly get better?
  • If you are of childbearing age and plan to get pregnant in the semi-near future you might want to ask: Is it okay if I get pregnant when I have lupus? Are the medications used to treat it safe to take during pregnancy?

3. Make sure you LISTEN

Ask for help

In fact, it's never a bad idea to take someone else to the appointment with you to be your second set of ears. Because sometimes it can be hard to remember everything that is said. Especially at that initial appointment when you are being diagnosed because everything seems so overwhelming. So by taking someone else you have better chances that you will get all the important parts.

If someone else can’t physically come with you to the appointment, you can also have someone with you by phone. If you do this it is important to make sure that your doctor is okay with this. But having someone by phone is much like having someone in-person and can be very beneficial. If you can’t have anyone along with you. Take notes. Use the notepad that you brought in that had your symptoms and write down everything the doctor says.

Following these tips can help make your first appointment less scary. And help you start the part toward a treatment!

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