UChicago Medicine rheumatologists are at the forefront of understanding and treating rheumatic conditions, from the most common to the most complex.

Rheumatologists are internal medicine or pediatric specialists who have received special training to diagnose and treat rheumatic diseases, including injuries and disorders of the musculoskeletal system and systemic autoimmune conditions.

Autoimmune conditions occur when the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells in the body. This can cause damage to joints, muscles and almost all other organs in the body including the liver, heart, kidney, eyes and brain. Reflecting the widespread damage that autoimmunity can inflict, symptoms of autoimmune diseases range from fatigue, rash and joint pain to seizures and heart failure.

Rheumatic diseases may be treated with a combination of prescription medicine, joint surgery and/or physical and occupational therapy. When rheumatic diseases affect the heart or other organs, additional physician specialists may need to be consulted. One of the benefits of seeking care at an academic medical center like UChicago Medicine is that all the experts you need are available and regularly consult with one another. 

Signs and Symptoms of Rheumatic Disease

While rheumatic diseases have differing symptoms, many can affect the joints. Common symptoms in the joints may include:

  • Pain
  • Loss of motion
  • Swelling, redness or warmth
  • Stiffness
  • Chronic pain

If symptoms do not get better over a short period of time, you should make an appointment with your primary care physician. They will refer you to a rheumatologist for evaluation if there is concern about a possible rheumatic condition. It is best to get a referral right away if symptoms are getting worse quickly, or if your relatives have autoimmune or rheumatic disease, because the disease can run in families. If a patient ignores symptoms of joint pain or does not seek treatment over a period of time, permanent joint damage can occur.

Causes of Rheumatic Disease

Experts don’t know what causes most types of rheumatic disease, but researchers believe these factors may have an influence:

  • Genetics and family history
  • Environmental triggers
  • Lifestyle choices, such as diet, smoking, or drug and alcohol use
  • Infection
  • Trauma
  • Metabolic problems
  • Wear and tear or stress on a joint or joints

Diagnosing a Rheumatic Disease

Rheumatic diseases can be complex and difficult to diagnose. Rheumatologists gather a patient’s medical and family history, and complete a physical exam to look for signs and symptoms of inflammation throughout the entire body. They look at the results of prior testing, and order additional laboratory tests to determine if there is any inflammation and/or extra antibodies in the bloodstream. They also may use radiographic testing such as X-ray, ultrasound, CT scan or MRI to see if there are any musculoskeletal abnormalities.

This thorough evaluation is used to identify the source of a patient’s symptoms and to develop a personalized treatment plan. Several visits may be necessary for the rheumatologist to fully understand what is going on in the patient’s body.

The patient’s prognosis may vary with the type of rheumatic disease. Some require ongoing medical attention and/or limit activities of daily living, while others last for a much shorter period, especially if treated properly and promptly.

Treatment and Medical Options

Treatment recommendations may include:

  • Medications to treat the disease, such as corticosteroids, disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs, biologics and janus kinase inhibitors
  • Medications that help with pain and discomfort, such as oral and topical analgesics, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Injections in the affected joints/tendons
  • Referral to physical therapists or other specialists
  • Lifestyle modifications such as regular exercise, a healthy diet, stress management and rest

During follow-up appointments, rheumatologists may talk with patients about coping mechanisms, techniques for preventing disability or regaining function and ways to improve their quality of life.

Second Opinions for Rheumatic and Autoimmune Diseases

We welcome the opportunity to provide a second opinion on your diagnosis or treatment plan. Our specialists can offer solutions not widely available at most hospitals and are dedicated to helping you understand your options so you can select the best care plan for your needs.

If you live outside of Chicago, you can access the expertise of our specialists without having to leave home through our remote second opinions program.

Research

We are committed to providing the most advanced care for our patients and to developing new knowledge concerning diagnosis and treatment. Our rheumatologists are involved in a wide array of clinical research projects, giving our patients the chance to participate in studies of new treatments. Their scientific advances are readily and regularly incorporated into patient care.

Our research activities extend from laboratory-based, basic science investigations to patient care initiatives aimed at improving diagnosis and treatment.

Our rheumatology research laboratories are supported by federal agencies (such as the National Institutes of Health) and private foundations (such as the Arthritis Foundation). The Gwen Knapp Center for Lupus and Immunology Research at the University of Chicago provides important support for the study of autoimmune disease.

Current and recent testing of therapies developed at UChicago Medicine include studies aimed at modifying the course of diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis and scleroderma. Patients also are involved in studies on systemic lupus, osteoarthritis, gout and inflammatory muscle disease.

What to expect during your visit to the rheumatology clinic

Whether we see you in-person or virtually, we want your appointment to go as smoothly as possible, and we want to help prepare you for your visit.  

Most patients seen by a rheumatologist are referred by either their primary care provider or another doctor who is providing specialty care. Make sure that this provider has sent us a referral, your records, X-rays and any other reports or studies.

Bring a list of your medications or the medications themselves.

If you have X-rays, CT scans or MRI images on a disc, please bring these to your appointment.

Set up a UChicago Medicine MyChart account. Here you can ask additional questions and send us pictures or other records you may want to share ahead of your appointment. We also use MyChart after your appointment to communicate with you. If you have MyChart accounts at other hospitals, these can be linked.

Once we know your diagnosis, we can start treatment.

Sometimes, determining a diagnosis can take more than one visit. We also may need additional tests or help from other specialists to determine how best to help you. If you need to schedule another visit, one of our care team members can help you. You may also call 773-702-6119 or log in to MyChart to make an appointment. 
 
It takes 7 to 10 days for all the tests results to come in. While you may receive results sooner, please wait at least 10 days before asking to discuss results with your provider.
 
After your visit, your primary care provider and/or the provider who referred you will get a copy of our notes with the details of your visit. It is important that the primary care provider remain the main resource for your medical care. If you do not have a primary care provider, we can help you find one.

The rheumatology clinic has many ongoing research studies. If you are eligible for a study, we will ask if you are interested in hearing more about it from a research coordinator. Research studies are voluntary, and you will receive the same excellent quality of care whether or not you participate. Participating in research may help you and others who have rheumatic diseases. 

Please arrive at least 15 minutes before your appointment time to check in and be ready for the doctor.

Your first visit with us may last one to two hours. It will include a history of your illness, family history and a physical exam. It also may include blood and urine tests, ultrasound and X-rays.

For non-urgent issues, sending a MyChart message is the best way to ask your question. You also may call 773-702-6119 with questions or concerns.

Call 773-702-6119 or log in to MyChart to schedule a return visit, or to cancel or reschedule an appointment. 

If you are more than 20 minutes late for your appointment, we will ask you to reschedule.

Our Rheumatology Locations

Request an Appointment

The information you provide will enable us to assist you as efficiently as possible. A representative will contact you within one to two business days to help you schedule an appointment.

You can also make an appointment with our providers by:

Scheduling a virtual video visit to see a provider from the comfort of your home

Requesting an online second opinion from our specialists

Filling out an online questionnaire (e-visit) to get a same-day diagnosis and treatment for common conditions.

To speak to someone directly, please call 1-888-824-0200. If you have symptoms of an urgent nature, please call your doctor or go to the emergency room immediately.

 

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