Diagnosing Rheumatoid Arthritis
The most valuable tool, by far, in diagnosing rheumatoid arthritis is an accurate reporting of the patient’s personal medical history, beginning with a description of symptoms. Think about this carefully, make notes, keep a diary, and be prepared to tell your whole story, from the beginning, to your doctor.
When did the joint pain and stiffness begin? What joints have been involved, how severely, and for how long? Were these joints swollen? Painful? Tender to the touch? Stiff? How about morning stiffness, including its duration and how it seems to resolve?
Any fever, loss of appetite, loss of weight? Have you suffered from generalized fatigue or depression? Have you ever had anything like this before? What seems to make it better or worse? Most importantly it is critical to explain how this is affecting your life right now.
When trying to arrive at a diagnosis, the rest of your personal medical history is important for your doctor to know as well. Write down your past medical history, including previous hospitalizations, surgeries, obstetrical history, and any episodes of trauma. Take all of your current medicine bottles with you when you see your doctor. Know your allergies. Your family history is also important, so prepare for this with all available information that you can gather.
Your doctor will want to know your social history, including your family status, your work status, and your personal habits. Do you smoke? Who are you responsible for and who can you depend on?
Most patients begin their medical care with their family physician. A rheumatologist is a doctor who specialized in diseases of joints. Remember, because this disease waxes and wanes, there may be very few physical findings at the time you see your doctor, so report your history accurately. Your doctor will want to examine your entire body, skin, and all your joints, so be prepared when you dress for your visit.
Following a thorough history and physical examination your doctor will likely want to take some X-rays and do some blood work. There are no magic laboratory tests. A diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis is made with a combination of the patient’s history, physical exam, X-ray and blood work studies. The most important, least expensive and least invasive tool in diagnosing rheumatoid arthritis is the patient’s history.
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