Many people have never heard of doctors called rheumatologists much less realize when they need to see one. Rheumatologists are medical doctors (internists or pediatricians) who specialize in musculoskeletal disorders and some autoimmune conditions. Many call them “arthritis doctors”.
If you suspect you have arthritis, you can make an appointment with your physician who will decide if you need to be referred to a rheumatologist. However, if you have the following signs, you can skip this intermediate step and go straight to the arthritis doctor.
1. Joint Pain, Tenderness, Warmth, or Swelling
Joint problems are one of the first signs of arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) usually starts with mild joint stiffness in the hands. It spreads very slowly, but can appear suddenly and affect joints all over your body. Stiffness can be followed by joint paint or tenderness when moving as well as during inactivity. Both sides of the body are affected equally.
At the early stages of arthritis, you might experience minor inflammation. It will cause your joints to appear larger than usual. Swelling can be the reason the joints feel warm or even hot to the touch. These symptoms might occur for only a few days or last for several weeks.
2. Morning Stiffness
Feeling joint stiffness in the morning is one of the early signs of arthritis. People usually come up with many reasons for morning stiffness, such as sleeping in an uncomfortable position, not getting enough rest, or growing older. To often they fail to consider arthritis as the reason.
If this joint stiffness lasts longer than a few minutes, it can be a symptom of degenerative arthritis. If the stiffness doesn’t go away for hours, it can point to inflammatory arthritis. Stiffness can occur if you are inactive for a long time, like while napping or watching TV.
3. Numbness and Tingling
One of the early symptoms of RA is carpal tunnel syndrome. It feels like a tingling or burning sensation in your hands. Your joints can squeak and crack when you move your hands because the damaged cartilage is rubbing against them. The sensation can become worse at night. If you have carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms, you might not have arthritis. However, you still should consult a doctor because these symptoms can also be caused by other conditions like hypothyroidism or diabetes.
4. Fever, Fatigue, and Weight Loss
If the pain in your joints is accompanied by mild fever it is most likely you have arthritis. However, if your fever is higher than 100°F, the reason is probably some other condition, such as a cold or a flu.
Fatigue is one of the earliest warning signs that many people tend to miss. It can start before any other symptoms manifest. Besides feeling fatigued, you can experience flu-like symptoms, weakness, or even depression. Periods of fatigue can come and go from day to day.
Fatigue and flu-like symptoms can result in a decrease in appetite and subsequent weight loss. Besides losing weight, you can also experience muscle loss and become malnourished. If these symptoms occur, give your doctor a call.
5. Motion Problems
If you suddenly notice that you can’t bend easily or straighten some of your joints, this is a sign of progressing arthritis. The range of motion can also be affected by the joint pain. If you experience a limited range of motion, make an appointment with a rheumatologist. Most likely you will need to engage in regular physical activity to improve it.
Other symptoms that may warrant an appointment with a rheumatologist are:
• Rheumatoid nodules (bumps under your skin)
• Scleritis (eye inflammation that causes redness, dryness and blurred vision)
• Limping (pain, loss of range of motion and stiffness causes limping)
• Both sides of the body affected by joint pain
• Joint pain after a recent injury
• Anemia (arthritis lowers red blood cell counts)
• Joint redness (skin redness over the inflamed joint)
• Joint deformity (a symptom of chronic rheumatoid arthritis)
Doctors recommend waiting at least two weeks after the symptoms first occur before making an appointment. Most of these signs can point to a light condition that can be resolved without any treatment. However, if the symptoms persist, most likely you have some form of arthritis and need to consult a rheumatologist.
If you have doubts about your condition, you can opt for calling your physician first. Whatever you decide, there is no need to endure the painful and uncomfortable symptoms of arthritis. They can be effectively dealt with through medication and natural remedies.