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Should You See a Rheumatologist for Osteoarthritis?

When to Consider a Specialist (Rheumatologist) for Osteoarthritis


Updated June 30, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

When considering if you should see a rheumatologist for osteoarthritis, know that the answer may depend on the stage of your disease. The following advice should help you decide.

Consult With Your Primary Care Doctor First

Your primary doctor will able to make an initial assessment following a physical examination. He can order x-rays, blood tests, or any other diagnostic tests needed to support his initial assessment. Your primary doctor can also prescribe medications to relieve pain and other arthritis symptoms.

After test results come back and enough time has passed to evaluate how you are doing on the prescribed medications, your doctor may decide that he can handle your case. If not, he may decide to refer you to a rheumatologist -- a specialist in arthritis diseases.

Rheumatologists Trained to Handle Complicated Conditions

After consulting with your primary care doctor -- if the diagnosis is not crystal clear, or if you seem to present a complicated case -- it may be wise to see a rheumatologist. Rheumatologists have additional education and training, making them the better choice for complicated cases.

Patients Can Request Referral to a Rheumatologist

As the patient, you have the right to request a referral to a rheumatologist. What might cause you to ask for that referral? If your pain is unrelenting, symptoms persist or worsen, or you feel you are becoming more disabled, it may be the appropriate time to see a rheumatologist.

If you need to find one on your own, visit UCompare HealthCare to search by city and state.

A Rheumatologist May Serve as a Second Opinion

A rheumatologist can be consulted on a limited basis to offer a second opinion about whether your treatment plan is appropriate and optimal for your condition. Your primary care doctor won't resent that you want a second opinion. He may even encourage it. Once you have your second opinion, you can return to your primary doctor for regular, follow-up appointments.

Bottom Line

You will have to start by checking your health insurance coverage and its requirements. Insurance companies may require that you see a primary doctor before consulting with any specialist.

A Note From Carol:

As for myself, I have rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. I have a primary care doctor, a rheumatologist, and an orthopedic surgeon. My rheumatologist handles all matters related to arthritis. My primary doctor handles all matters except arthritis. And, my orthopedic surgeon is on-board for joint replacements or other arthritis-related surgeries. A good team of doctors is invaluable. Make sure you're confident in yours.

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