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What is Pediatric Rheumatology?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 17 November 2016
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Pediatric rheumatology is a specialty area of medicine that focuses on inflammatory conditions like arthritis and others, as they affect children. Each pediatric rheumatologist is well trained for this field, and has first completed medical school and three or more years specialty training in pediatrics. They then complete an additional three years residency in pediatric rheumatology.

There are many conditions in which pediatric rheumatology takes an interest. Though many people associate this specialty with the treatment of arthritis in children, lots of other suspected illnesses could have general practitioners or pediatricians recommend a child see a pediatric rheumatologist. Some of these conditions include lupus, Kawasaki disease and scleroderma. Any case of suspected inflammatory illness that affects the muscles, bones or joints, and sometimes the organs, or that causes things like rashes and unexplained fever might be of interest to a pediatric rheumatologist.

In pediatric rheumatology, principle issues are examination, diagnosis and treatment of patients. Patients can be assessed in numerous ways, such as through physical examination, through blood testing, by aspirating fluid from joints, and by performing various scans like x-rays, magnetic resonance imaging or computerized axial tomography. Sometimes diagnosis is easy to make, and other times illnesses resist diagnosis or may fall outside of the rheumatology field, necessitating referral to another specialist.

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Based on diagnoses, the pediatric rheumatologist then institutes treatment of varying kinds. This could include prescribing medications that can help or recommending surgery from time to time. Other treatments might be required as needed, and pediatric rheumatologists may work with additional doctors or allied health professionals like physical therapists, occupational therapists, nutritionists and psychologists or mental health therapists. Many children who are diagnosed with chronic illnesses will require support in a number of areas, and pediatric rheumatologists can help direct parents to finding that extra support.

When children have chronic conditions like juvenile arthritis or scleroderma, they may have at least one specialist in pediatric rheumatology that follows their care through childhood. Eventually care would be turned over to adult specialists in this field, called rheumatologists. Many rheumatologists are quite familiar with the diseases that children may get, but they tend to more exclusively treat adults.

It’s not always easy to find a pediatric rheumatologist. Many of them work at either children’s hospitals or major hospitals with an extensive children’s department, and a number of these hospitals are located in more populous areas. On the other hand, the occasional doctor may maintain a practice in a community that is smaller, or sometimes a larger community hospital hires one of these doctors for specialty consultation. Most pediatricians keep up on the pediatric specialties and can direct parents to the nearest pediatric rheumatology department if it is needed.

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