If your primary care doctor suspects you may be suffering from an autoimmune condition such as rheumatoid arthritis or ankylosing spondylitis, then they will likely refer you to a rheumatologist — a doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating these conditions. Since autoimmune diseases can be difficult to diagnose and treat, a lot will happen during your first appointment. Here are some tips to help you prepare.

Make a list of your medications.

By the time you are referred to a specialist, your doctor has typically prescribed and recommended a few different medications. Bring a list of these medications along with a description of when you took them, the dose you took, and the results you saw. Create a list of past medications and how you reacted to them, too. This information can help your rheumatologist narrow down your diagnosis, and it can guide them as they prescribe you new or additional information.

Keep a journal of your symptoms.

It's easy to forget your symptoms when they come and go so frequently, as is common with autoimmune disorders. Instead of relying on your memory, keep a journal of your symptoms between now and your rheumatologist appointment. This way, when the doctor asks "have you ever had any headaches?" or "how long does that pain typically last?" you can reference your journal and be confident you're giving a more complete, accurate answer.

Ask a friend or a family member to go with you.

If you feel comfortable asking a friend or family member to accompany you to your rheumatologist appointment, do so. Having them there will likely make you feel more comfortable, which will help you open up to the doctor and be more thorough in your descriptions of your symptoms. Your friend can also offer some outside input.

For example, you might be so used to dealing with pain as you navigate stairs that you wouldn't even think about mentioning it. But your friend may be able to say "she looks like she's really struggling whenever she has to climb the stairs." The more complete a picture the doctor is able to get of your health, the better able they'll be to properly diagnose you.

Visiting a rheumatologist can be an important step towards healing and better managing your autoimmune disease. If you take the time to prepare as described above, you will get even more out of this first appointment. For more information about the treatments a rheumatologist can prescribe, contact a local treatment center like the Sarasota Arthritis Center.