If your doctor suspects you may be suffering from a rheumatic disorder, they will likely refer you to a rheumatologist for diagnosis and treatment. Rheumatic disorders are complex, but rheumatologists are experts at "playing detective" and figuring out what's wrong. Chances are, it will take several visits to the rheumatologist to arrive at an accurate diagnosis and to discover which treatments work best for you. But, it all starts with the first visit! Here are some ways to ensure that the first visit is as productive as possible.
Keep a log of your symptoms.
During the first visit, your rheumatologist will want to know about your symptoms. It can be helpful for them to not only have a list of your symptoms but a timeline for those symptoms as well. For example, it's helpful for them to know if you've been dealing with joint pain at the same time that you've had fevers, or if the joint pain comes before the fevers.
The easiest way to provide your rheumatologist with a timeline of your symptoms is to keep a diary for a month or so. Write an entry each day. Note any symptoms you are experiencing and the time of day when you experience them. This makes it easy for your rheumatologist to see the progression of your symptoms over time, which may help them make an accurate diagnosis sooner.
Bring your medications.
Before your visit, pack all of the medications you're taking into a bag. Include any supplements you are taking — whether they are vitamins, minerals, or herbs. Sometimes, medication side effects can mimic the symptoms of a rheumatic disorder. Other times, they will make symptoms worse. Bringing the medications along with you is more foolproof than trying to remember everything you take when your doctor asks!
Ask a family member to come along.
This is especially important if you feel like your disease gives you brain fog, which is common with some rheumatic conditions. Ask a trusted family member to accompany you to the visit. Even if they don't stay in the exam room with you throughout the entire visit, they can be there for the discussion. They may remember to mention symptoms you forgot about, ask the doctors questions you don't think of, and help you record important information that's presented.
Rheumatologists are great at getting to the bottom of rheumatic and autoimmune conditions. And with the tips above, you should start off on the right foot!