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What Is Rheumatology?

Subspecialty Focuses on Arthritis and Related Rheumatic Conditions


Updated August 03, 2014

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Rheumatology Defined

Rheumatology is a subspecialty of internal medicine. Doctors who specialize in rheumatology are referred to as rheumatologists. They diagnose and focus on non-surgical treatment of arthritis and related rheumatic diseases. Rheumatologists can also specialize in pediatric rheumatology -- treating children with rheumatic diseases.

How Much Education and Training Does the Rheumatology Specialty Require?

Rheumatology training involves a Bachelor's degree followed by 4 years of medical school, 1 year of internship in internal medicine, 2 years of internal medicine residency, and 2 years of rheumatology fellowship. The American College of Rheumatology oversees the board certification of qualified rheumatologists.

What Are Rheumatic Diseases?

Rheumatology deals with arthritis and related rheumatic diseases. What are rheumatic diseases? For that matter, what is arthritis? And still another medical term that gets thrown in the mix -- rheumatism?

Arthritis Patients Want to Know...

Arthritis patients, especially early in the course of their disease, want to know if it is necessary to go to a specialist in rheumatology. They likely already have a good rapport with an internal medicine doctor -- so can't that doctor diagnose and treat arthritis? The short answer is that you will find some people who believe the internal medicine doctor can take charge of an arthritis case.

If you have osteoarthritis, this common condition can usually be managed by internists, especially if you have a mild case. There are cases that become advanced and necessitate rheumatological or surgical consults but overwhelmingly OA is dealt with by internists.

For more complicated types of arthritis, a rheumatology consult can be extremely helpful since a rheumatologist deals with the complexities of rheumatic disease and treatment options on a daily basis. They likely possess cutting-edge knowledge of rheumatology. The American College of Rheumatology offers this advice:


Webster's New World Medical Dictionary. Second Edition. F. Hecht MD and W. Shiel, MD. Page 355. Rheumatology.

The Role of the Rheumatologist. American College of Rheumatology. October 2002.

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