Even before my official “diagnosis” I knew that something was not right. Fatigue, aches, and pains sent me to my primary care doctor looking for answers. Inevitably, tests were run and I left with a referral to a rheumatologist. Well, now what do I do? You may now find yourself in the same place, wondering the same thing.
Most rheumatologists schedule appointments months out, particularly for new patients. During this waiting period, I became very anxious and nervous about how that appointment may go. I can felt unsettled and overwhelmed because I didn’t know what to expect, what questions to ask, or how the doctor might address my concerns. These feelings are perfectly normal. I learned that the more informed you are before the appointment, the more at ease and confident you are able to be at your appointment. I learned that the time spent with my doctor was productive and I felt satisfied that the rheumatologist heard and addressed my concerns.
Here are some tips that I have learned to help make the most of the first appointment with your rheumatologist
Be prepared– One of the best things that you can do to prepare for your appointment with a rheumatologist is to gather information by documenting and being informed. Reading the articles and connecting with others on the Psoriatic-Arthritis.com website is a great place to start. Document any rashes, swelling, or pain you may have and the circumstances surrounding it. Pay attention to when pains are better or worse.
Make sure you have a detailed account of your medical history– including any other autoimmune issues you may have or medications that you currently take. Be aware of your family history as genetics also play a role in determining the correct diagnosis.
Gather your information and keep it neat and organized– This will help you find what you are looking for when you need it and it will help give your doctor a clear picture of what may be going on. During your appointment, it is easy to forget what you wanted to say or to get distracted.
What to expect
During your first appointment, your doctor may or may not do a number of things as needed to assess and diagnosis your symptoms. Every doctor and patient is different, but there are some things that your doctor may choose to do to get a better understanding of your particular situation.
- Your doctor may order blood work to check levels of inflammation and overall health.
- Your doctor may order x-rays to check for potential damage to joints
- Your doctor may order a MRI to check for inflammation in muscles, tendons, and ligaments
- Your doctor will likely perform a physical examination of all your joints, checking for tenderness, swelling, inflammation, and damage
- Your doctor will likely check any rashes as well as your eyes, ears, and nails as they all can be affected by psoriatic arthritis
Once your doctor has examined you, depending on their findings, they may already feel confident making a diagnosis or wait until all the tests are in and discuss the findings at a follow up appointment. Do not be disappointed if you don’t leave the first appointment with an “official diagnosis.” It is very important for your doctor to be thorough and confident in their diagnosis in order to guide you through an appropriate treatment plan, and that can take some time. When we are in pain, we all want answers and to feel better as quickly as possible, but it is very important that the answers we seek are the right ones for us.
Keep in mind
Your experiences with your first rheumatologist’s appointment may be different from mine. Your rheumatologist’s office may have different procedures and best practices than mine has. The important thing to remember is to educate yourself, ask questions, and document everything. Living with PsA is an uncertain journey and only you are in charge of deciding how that journey will go.