What to Know Before you Go
Symptoms with unknown causes are scary enough. Your first visit to a rheumatologist shouldn’t be. Like any new relationship, preparing for the first meeting can raise a lot of questions and maybe some nerves, so we asked a few rheumatologists what they would tell new patients to expect.
Before your appointment…
Arm yourself with the details of your own story. Spend some time thinking about your symptoms in as much detail as you can. These details will help your rheumatologist immensely. Some rheumatologists suggest thinking about a timeline of your symptoms. As you prepare for your appointment, try asking yourself the following questions about your symptoms:
It is also very important to make note of any medications you take regularly, as well as ones you have tried specifically for your symptoms. It can also be helpful to call your regular care provider for copies of recent lab work, X-rays, etc. and your full medical history. This can help eliminate duplicative testing.
During your appointment…
Be prepared for a conversation and exam. Your rheumatologist will ask a lot of pointed questions about your symptoms. Some new patients are surprised by the volume of questions during their first visit! Some questions may even seem unrelated to your symptoms, but rheumatologists are like detectives: they need to collect all the evidence they can.
Your rheumatologist will also conduct a thorough exam, usually including all of your joints, from your shoulders to your toes, as well as your heart and lungs. After the physical exam, new patients may be asked for blood and urine samples, as well as imaging like X-rays, MRIs or ultrasounds.
It’s important to ask questions during your appointment. You might be answering a lot of questions, but it’s your appointment too. If you are curious, concerned or even confused, speak up! Rheumatologists encourage all new patients to make sure they understand their diagnoses, ask about follow-up appointments and clarify any work or activity restrictions. Some patients also find it helpful to take notes during their appointment.
After all the preparation for your appointment, meeting with your rheumatologists for the first time may feel like the finish line, but it is important to understand that this is the first step in a journey. Many rheumatologists will likely schedule a follow-up appointment to review lab work or imaging results. Patients, like Shanelle and Christine, often form long-term relationships with their rheumatologists, and consider them a close partner in their health care. Now that you know more about what to expect, you and your rheumatologist can focus on what matters: getting well.