When your primary care doctor refers you to a rheumatologist, you often assume this physician will diagnose you with rheumatism or rheumatoid arthritis. But actually, these doctors diagnose and treat a wide array of autoimmune disorders, and you may, in fact, find out that you have one of these lesser-known conditions.
Guillain-Barre syndrome is an autoimmune disease in which the body attacks the nerves. Early symptoms can mimic those of other autoimmune disorders. They may include fatigue, fever, tingling in the extremities, weakness, double vision, and changes in blood pressure. If your rheumatologist suspects you may have Guillain-Barre, they may conduct nerve conduction tests or take a spinal tap for diagnosis. Although there is no cure for the disease, immunotherapy medications can be really helpful in slowing the progression of the disease. Physical therapy may also help you regain any strength you have lost.
Sjorgen's syndrome is a condition in which the immune system begins attacking the mucous-producing cells in your eyes, mouth, and nose. The key symptoms tend to be dry eyes and a dry mouth, but some people also experience fatigue, low urine volume, and troubled digestion. A diagnosis is usually made with a blood test and swabs of the eyes and mouth.
If you are diagnosed with Sjogren's syndrome, you may be prescribed medications to suppress your immune system. Your rheumatologist will likely also prescribe eye drops to keep your eyes moist, and a rinse to keep your mouth from becoming too dry. Regular visits to the eye doctor and dentist are important for patients with Sjogren's syndrome.
Many patients assume that, when they develop joint pain and a fever, they have rheumatoid arthritis. But in fact, they may have psoriatic arthritis, a similar condition with a few key differences. Psoriatic arthritis causes flares of joint pain that come and go. Usually, the pain is worst in the fingers, toes, and feet. Along with the joint pain, most patients develop flaky, red, itchy patches on their skin. These patches commonly appear along the scalp, on the elbows, and at the backs of the knees.
Psoriatic arthritis is best managed with a combination of immunosuppressants and NSAID pain relievers. Some doctors prescribe disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs, like methotrexate, for this condition.
If your doctor refers you to a rheumatologist, you should not necessarily assume you'll be diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. Sometimes, one of these other diseases is at play.