What to Expect at Your First Rheumatology Appointment

If you are living with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), you will likely find yourself visiting a rheumatologist at some point in your journey. A rheumatologist is a physician who specializes in treating arthritis.

They’re also experts in treating other rheumatic conditions, such as lupus, gout, and ankylosing spondylitis. They also treat osteoarthritis and osteoporosis.

If you have RA, your rheumatologist will play a leading role in your plan of care and overall health. You and your rheumatologist will work together to find a treatment plan that works best for you and your lifestyle.

To create a plan that works best for you, it’s important to prepare for this appointment. Here are some tips to help you be prepared for the visit.

Come prepared to fill out some paperwork

Your first visit will be a little bit different than your following visits. If this is your first visit with your rheumatologist, you may spend a little more time in the exam room. Plan on being there for at least 1 hour. Be prepared for a thorough physical exam as well.

Either before or on arrival, you will be asked to complete new patient paperwork. This step is important because these documents often stay in your file for as long as you’re being treated at this medical office. Sometimes filling out a lot of paperwork can be hard for people with hand pain and RA.

Be prepared with your adaptive devices and preferred writing utensils when you arrive. If this is still too painful for you to complete just before the appointment, ask if you can complete the paperwork ahead of time. This way you can do a section at a time on your own terms in the comfort of your own home.

You can also ask if the paperwork is available electronically. Some software can even use talk-to-text technology on most smartphones.

Family history is essential information when it comes to rheumatic diseases. Be sure to complete this portion to the best of your ability. Be sure to include all of your family’s history. You never know what’s relevant or helpful for the rheumatologist to know.

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Bring a list of all medications you are currently taking

Your rheumatologist will want a list of all prescription and nonprescription medications you are taking. Everything you take, including supplements, herbs, probiotics, and over-the-counter (OTC) medications, should be reported.

This information is important to avoid interactions with new medications. This is also a helpful way for you and your rheumatologist to determine whether your current medications are working for you.

To save time, you can bring a list of your medications to your appointment. Include the name, dosage, frequency, route (i.e., pill, cream, intravenous), and when you last took it. If your insurance prefers 90-day supplies instead of 30-day supplies, this is a good place to note that, too.

If you aren’t able to write them all out, take pictures on your smartphone. Be sure to get all of the details from the bottle in the picture. You can also obtain a printed list from your pharmacy. If you do this, just don’t forget to add everything else you take OTC to the list.

Brush up on your personal health history

Your health history is important in the diagnosis and treatment of RA. Be sure to make your rheumatologist aware of any current and historical diagnoses.

It may seem as though you’re filling out a ton of paperwork. Though it might feel tedious it’s important to remember how essential all of these details actually are.

Your rheumatologist will want to review all of the lab work you’ve already had done. They will probably want more labs drawn, too, especially on your first visit. Be prepared to have blood drawn, just in case. It may save you a trip.

Your rheumatologist will also review all imaging you have had. This includes X-ray, ultrasounds, cat scans, and magnetic resonance imaging. Be prepared as they may want different pictures than you have already had or they may want to repeat some of these for comparison.

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Be prepared to talk about your pain

When talking about your pain be prepared with answers to the following.

  • What does your pain feel like? Is it sharp, shooting, dull, achey, or throbbing?
  • Where do you feel the pain?
  • When do you feel the pain? Is it at certain times of day? Does it worsen after certain activities?
  • Does anything make the pain better? What have you already tried to manage the pain?
  • How does pain, fatigue, or other symptoms interfere with your life?
  • What does this pain stop you from doing? (I.e. caring for your children, working, exercising, being intimate?)

Try to remain patient and optimistic

Keep in mind, it may take a while to get or confirm an official diagnosis or RA. Give your rheumatologist time to interpret what you have already done, incorporate the new results and findings, and compile it together. You may or may not leave your first rheumatology appointment with a formal diagnosis and fully detailed treatment plan. RA is tricky and complex. The process might take some extra time to accurately diagnose, especially after your first visit.

Try to remain optimistic and remember, connecting when a rheumatologist is a major step in addressing and treating your RA.

There is new research coming out everyday in the world of RA. For the latest updates on treatment development and guidelines, keep tabs on postings from the European Alliance of Associations For Rheumatology and American College of Rheumatology. This is what your rheumatologist will use to guide them in your treatment. Good luck at your appointment, there really is so much hope.


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