When you have ankylosing spondylitis (AS), it can seem like just another chore to make an appointment and see your rheumatologist. But that’s not always the case. Here are seven reasons why seeing your rheumatologist is beneficial to you and your health.
1. Rheumatologists are trained to treat all types of arthritis, including AS
Rheumatologists are medical doctors with extensive training in musculoskeletal and inflammatory disorders, including all types of arthritis.
Once they’re board certified in rheumatology, they must retake the exam every 10 years. They’re required to keep up with all the latest research and treatment options through continuing education.
AS is a serious condition that you’ll have for the rest of your life. You probably have a general practitioner, but putting a rheumatologist in charge of your AS treatment will ensure that you’re not neglecting your AS.
2. AS is an unpredictable inflammatory disease
The course of AS is hard to predict. It can range from mild to debilitating and everything in between. Chronic inflammation can lead to a lot of damage to your spine and joints throughout your body.
There’s no cure, so treatment is designed to lessen symptoms and delay progression. The key is to control inflammation as much as possible to keep joint damage to a minimum.
For that, you’ll need a specialist with a deep understanding of the role of inflammation in AS. Your rheumatologist will also keep a sharp eye out for potential complications so they can be addressed early.
When symptoms flare up suddenly, you don’t want to have to start at square one. Having an established relationship with a rheumatologist means you already know exactly who to call, and they’ll have all your medical records.
3. You may not recognize some of the lesser-known problems of AS
AS mainly affects your spine, causing lower back pain and stiffness. As an inflammatory condition, AS can affect more than your spine, though. It can also affect:
- your rib cage
- other joints, including those in your jaws, shoulders, hips, knees, hands, and feet
- tendons and ligaments
- your eyes
- bowel and bladder function
- your lungs
- your heart
Your rheumatologist will look for signs that AS is affecting other parts of your body. If it is, you may need additional treatment — the sooner, the better.
Your rheumatologist will have your case history and will be able to proceed immediately. If necessary, they can recommend other specialists.
4. Even if you aren’t having symptoms, your disease could be progressing
AS is a chronic condition, which means you’ll always have it. Even if your symptoms are mild or you have no major problems, there’s a potential for disease progression and permanent damage to joints.
You could be missing the warning signs of serious complications if you skip doctor appointments or you don’t have an AS specialist. A rheumatologist can help you stick to your treatment plan and help prevent disabling complications.
With careful monitoring, you can address early signs of trouble and adjust your treatment accordingly.
5. You might not be doing all you can to prevent complications
Treatment for AS is multifaceted, but your treatment will have to change as your needs change. In addition to medications, your treatment plan should include a variety of lifestyle modifications.
Proper treatment by a rheumatologist can help improve your quality of life now, as well as help prevent serious complications later.
Rheumatologists are experts in arthritis and can provide:
- treatment for pain and stiffness
- treatment for inflammation to avoid further damage to joints
- instructions for muscle-building and range-of-motion exercises
- tips on how to practice good posture
- techniques to help prevent disability
- tips on how to choose assistive devices that help, not hurt
- referrals to other medical specialists as needed
- information and referrals about complementary therapies such as yoga, massage, and acupuncture
- suggestions on how to cope with AS and find the support you need
You won’t need all of these services all the time, but having a rheumatologist will ensure that they’re available when you do.
6. You may be unknowingly aggravating symptoms
Perhaps as important as knowing what to do is knowing what not to do.
- Are you taking the wrong over-the-counter medications?
- Are you doing the wrong exercises or doing the right ones the wrong way?
- Is excess weight putting too much stress on your joints?
- Is your physically demanding job causing damage to your spine?
- Is your diet harming your overall health?
- Is it OK that you’re getting regular chiropractic treatment and massages?
- Are your bed and pillow making things worse?
Your AS is unique to you, so it takes an expert to assess your condition and provide the answers to those questions.
7. Over time, you might need to expand your healthcare team
Your healthcare needs will probably change from time to time. Your rheumatologist will be able to refer you to the experts who provide additional care or treat complications of AS.
Some of the other specialists who might be added to your healthcare team are:
- physiatrist or physical therapist
- dietician or nutritionist
- qualified practitioners of complementary therapies
Think of your rheumatologist as your team leader, or your AS partner. With your permission, they can also share your medical history and test results, keeping the team in sync and working together.
With your rheumatologist at the helm, much of the burden is off your shoulders.
It’s not necessarily true that your AS will progress rapidly or that you’ll develop disabilities, but it is a serious condition. Getting regular care from a qualified specialist can keep you as healthy as possible while facing the challenges of AS.