ASK THE RESEARCHER
Q. How do I find a doctor who specializes in autoimmune diseases? There is no medical specialty called “autoimmunity.”
A. Although the causes ofautoimmune diseases are shared between diseases, the diseases themselves affect different parts of the body. Because of this, each autoimmune disease has traditionally been treated by the subspecialists that are experts in the part of the body or system that is affected by an individual disease. For example, a patient with weakness or numbness will see a neurologist, a patient with thyroid disease or diabetes will see an endocrinologist, someone with abdominal pain and diarrhea will see a gastroenterologist, patients with rashes such as psoriasis will see a dermatologist and someone with arthritis will see a rheumatologist.
This makes sense because these specialists are expert at diagnosing and caring for patients with these problems. However, once someone is diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, it may be helpful to find a physician within a subspecialty who is particularly interested and involved in the care of the autoimmune disease that you have. It is important to work with a physician who is comfortable with the treatment of these diseases and who is up-to-date on the most recent discoveries.
For example, a patient with multiple sclerosis (MS) may be diagnosed with the disease by a general neurologist, then choose to see someone who has a strong interest in MS; this may also be the case if someone is diagnosed with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. In the case of rheumatology, many of the diseases seen by rheumatologists are autoimmune in nature, including diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus, axial spondyloarthritis and many others. Most rheumatologists are expert in treating these autoimmune diseases and prepared to identify other autoimmune diseases as well.
If you have an autoimmune disease, it is important to keep all of your doctors informed about your diagnosis, treatments and any new symptoms or concerns that you have, so that they can provide you with the best possible care and advice.
Jane Buckner, MD
BRI Associate Director
Translational Research Program Director
Rheumatologist, Virginia Mason Medical Center
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