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Rheumatoid Arthritis: Why See a Specialist?


Allie Lemco Toren

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This content is created or selected by the Healthgrades editorial team and is funded by an advertising sponsor. The content is subject to the Healthgrades medical review process for accuracy, balance and objectivity. The content is not edited or otherwise influenced by the advertisers appearing on this page except with the possible suggestion of the broad topic area. For more information, read the HealthGrades advertising policy.


Treatment Options for RA

There's no one-size-fits-all approach to treating RA. It’s important to work closely with your physician.
Doctor with hand on patients shoulder

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a complex disease that affects everyone differently. That’s why all RA patients should follow unique treatment plans tailored to their specific needs. But your primary care doctor may not have all the information you need to manage your RA successfully.

That’s where specialists come in: an RA specialist, called a rheumatologist, has the right skills and insight to help you stay in control of your RA. Here’s why:

1. A rheumatologist completes extensive training in RA and is an expert in RA care.

A rheumatologist is a physician who specializes in treating diseases related to the musculoskeletal and immune systems. These systems are involved in many aspects of human health, so rheumatologists must train extensively to master these areas of study. A rheumatologist will have expertise in treating RA and other conditions related to your musculoskeletal and immunological health.

All doctors complete a training program called a residency after they finish medical school, focusing on family medicine, internal medicine, general surgery, or other broad areas. But rheumatologists receive extensive training beyond that. Rheumatologists spend several additional years in a fellowship, in which they train under experienced rheumatologists and focus on patients with RA and issues affecting the musculoskeletal and immune systems. At the end of this period, specialists can take an exam to become a board-certified rheumatologist. Look for a doctor who is board certified in rheumatology, and you’ll know you’re seeing an expert.

2. A rheumatologist never stops learning about RA.

To maintain their specialty board certification, rheumatologists must keep up with new developments in their field. They must complete continuing education and renew their license every few years, depending on the state in which they practice and other factors. By following these requirements, board-certified rheumatologists stay on top of new treatments and discoveries about the mechanisms involved in RA, so they can then provide their patients with insightful, informed, and up-to-date treatment plans.

3. A rheumatologist has extensive experience in treating RA.

Rheumatologists see a higher volume and concentration of patients with RA, and thus are more experienced in treating the condition successfully. Because they see lots of patients with RA, they can add real-world knowledge of the disease to their academic and clinical training. They’re able to assess how well patients respond to certain treatments, have a deeper understanding of how RA progresses over time, share insight about effectively implementing lifestyle changes, and recognize symptoms that a general practitioner may miss, among other skills.

4. A rheumatologist is a team player.

Rheumatologists work with teams of other health care providers who treat patients with RA and can connect patients with nurse practitioners, physical therapists, occupational therapists, podiatrists, orthopedic surgeons, mental health counselors, and other experts in RA management. Working with a team can help patients address all aspects of the disease and ensure success.

5. It’s easy to find the right rheumatologist for you.

There are thousands of rheumatologists in the United States, so how do you know which is the right doctor for you? By searching on, you can identify the best rheumatologist to help you manage your RA successfully.

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Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Oct 14, 2016

© 2016 Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the Healthgrades User Agreement.

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