We are sure you have heard of arthritis. And you may have heard of rheumatology—but unless you have had a personal experience or diagnosis, it’s possible you don’t know what it is. We sat down with Dr. Laisvyde Smajkic to get your most basic and common questions about rheumatology, arthritis, and joint pain answered.
1. What is a rheumatologist?
A rheumatologist is a medical doctor specializing in diagnosing, treating and educating patients who suffer from rheumatic conditions. These conditions usually, but not always, affect the joints.
2. Which part of the body is the focus for a rheumatologist?
Most rheumatic diseases affect the joints. Joints involved can be anywhere in the body (arms, legs or the spine), small or large. There are mainly two types of arthritis that rheumatologists encounter and distinguish between at the beginning of the diagnosis—this is crucial step as the treatment differs significantly for these two types of arthritis. However, arthritis is not the only condition for which patients end up in the care of a rheumatologist. There are a wide group of rheumatic autoimmune diseases—conditions that not only affect the joints (and sometimes do not at all) but also cause significant inflammation to other parts of the body. These sometimes affect many organ systems, as in the case of systemic lupus erythematosus. In these cases, primary care physicians are the first to suspect these diseases, so they refer patients to the rheumatologist for further evaluation.
3. What are the most common health problems you assess?
The most commonly encountered rheumatic conditions are:
- inflammatory arthropathies, such as rheumatoid and psoriatic arthritis
- degenerative arthropathy osteoarthritis
- systemic inflammatory conditions, such as systemic lupus erythematosus and Sjogren’s syndrome
- inflammatory muscle diseases and vasculitis (inflammation of the blood vessels)
- more complicated cases of crystal arthritis, such as gout
4. How does a rheumatologist help patients with arthritis and other rheumatic diseases?
Diagnosis. First, accurate diagnosis is the most important step. Sometimes it does not suffice to talk to and examine the patient. Often further diagnostic steps such as aspiration (tapping) of the joint and assessing the fluid in the laboratory is required. For systemic inflammatory conditions, we test a patient’s blood for an array of inflammatory/autoimmune markers to arrive at the diagnosis.
Treatment. Treatment differs depending on the type of arthritis. For patients with the most common, rheumatoid arthritis, we have so many treatment options today—from oral medications, their combinations, to injectable/infusable biologic agents—that really make life-changing impact for the patients. It’s the reason we rarely see advanced joint deformities that were so common in patients affected by arthritis just decades ago.
5. What treatment and continuing care options are available for patients at Little Company of Mary for rheumatic diseases?
Little Company of Mary Hospital has all the necessary resources to provide the best care for patients suffering from rheumatic conditions. The laboratory and imaging departments are top notch. There is a multidisciplinary approach available to every patient who may need it. Physical therapy expertise is here. I am honored to join Little Company of Mary as a rheumatologist, to be able to coordinate these resources and to streamline them to each patient’s individualized need. Most importantly, Little Company of Mary provides top medical advancements.
6. At what point should a patient see you?
Any patient suffering from unexplained (without preceding trauma) and/or unremitting joint symptoms—joint pain, swelling, dysfunction—should be evaluating by a rheumatologist. Additionally, patients with non-specific musculoskeletal complaints or “suggestive” blood tests are referred to a rheumatologist by their primary care physician when he or she highly suspects that a patient suffers from a rheumatic condition.
Learn more about Dr. Smajkic.
Dr. Laisvyde Smajkic is currently accepting new patients. If you’d like to make an appointment to visit Dr. Smajkic, call (708) 974-7350.