There's a team of arthritis professionals ready to swoop to your aid. Yay!
From the consultant rheumatologist who will diagnose and treat you, to the physiotherapist who can help keep your body strong and mobile, if you have arthritis there are professionals to help you. You will never have been so popular! Here’s the A-Team:
This is the big cheese – the specialist in arthritis and any diseases connected to rheumatology. There are around 200 different types of arthritis and related conditions; the Consultant Rheumatologist will diagnose you and organise a programme of specialist treatment, and continue to review your progress. This could include investigations, drug treatments, self-help initiatives and referrals to therapists. Usually, you’ll be referred by your GP to a Consultant in a hospital.
Rheumatology Nurse Specialist
These are your go-to-girls (or guys). Any problems you have – physical, emotional, social – they can answer questions, explain your diagnosis, talk about your symptoms and treatment, and support you through difficult times. Some Rheumatology Nurses can also diagnose active disease, recommend and administer treatments and prescribe medication.
You’ll usually be referred to a Rheumatology Nurse Specialist when you’ve been diagnosed by a Consultant and treatment has been agreed. Most rheumatology departments have a telephone helpline so you can speak to a nurse if you need to, and you can often make appointments in-between follow-up appointments if symptoms change or you need more support.
The Pharmacists in hospital work as a team with the doctors and nurses to ensure you get the best treatment for you, and to provide help and advice about your medication. They can advise on the choice of medicine, the amount you take and how you take it, and some are qualified to prescribe medicines too. They know everything about the side-effects of medicines, and will work with your medical team to ensure that side-effects are kept at a minimum.
Pharmacists at your local chemist may also be able to tell you how to take your prescribed medication if you need additional help in-between hospital appointments.
Occupational Therapists assess individuals’ physical, psychological, and social needs as a result of their condition, looking at the whole person, and considering the impact on their lifestyle.
They can help you manage your condition in the workplace and in the rest of your life, like accessing sports and hobbies, and managing in day-to-day life. They can also help with specific issues around work, such as assessing your environment, looking at the work you’re being asked to do and advising on work policies and procedures.
An OT can also introduce you to a whole new world of devices to make everyday tasks that can be challenging, just that bit easier – jar openers, writing aids, cutlery aids, bath and shower equipment, and so on. If there’s something you’re having trouble with, chances are there’s some whizzy piece of equipment that can help.
You may be referred to a Physiotherapist by your GP or your Rheumatologist, or you can refer yourself. A Physiotherapist will help you understand what’s going on with your joints and muscles. They can look at the way you move and help you to manage your pain by teaching you different stretching, strengthening and mobilizing exercises. Some Physios may have additional skills that can help, such as massage and acupuncture.
General Practitioners (GPs)
GPs treat all common medical conditions and refer patients to hospitals and other medical services for urgent and specialist treatment. GPs are primary care doctors providing the first point of contact with the NHS for most people in their communities. A GP can recognise, advise, treat or refer patients with any medical or emotional condition, and is often the first port of call if you have any health concerns.
Medical secretaries have a knowledge of medical terminology, healthcare operations and medical office procedures. They deal with the Consultants’ and Nurse Specialists’ correspondence, make appointments, handle patients’ queries and liaise with GPs and other healthcare staff. They can be a positive go-between for patients and their relatives, who may have concerns or queries that need communicating to the medical team.
These are more guys with gadgets – they can provide you with devices (known as orthoses) which can support your joints, and take the strain off, reducing pain. These can include insoles, splints and more complicated custom-made devices depending on your needs.
These are the foot experts – also sometimes known as chiropodists. They’re experts on feet and ankles, and some are specialists in arthritis. Again, your Consultant or your GP can refer you to a Podiatrist, or you can refer yourself. They can help figure out reasons for pain in your feet, and give expert advice on whether you may benefit from specialist foot treatments or aids that may help give relief to some of your symptoms.
It’s far less likely nowadays that you will require surgery for arthritis, but if you do, this is the person you need. Most Orthopaedic Surgeons will have a particular specialty – hips, knees or hands, for example. Your Consultant Rheumatologist will refer you to the relevant surgeon if necessary.
The surgeon will discuss all types of options with you – just because you’re referred to a surgeon doesn’t mean you have to have surgery. They’ll talk to you about the pros and cons and the decision is yours. Sometimes, knowing all the options can make the thought of surgery less daunting, and be a positive step towards making an informed choice about whether to have surgery or not.