By: Timothy Hahn, MD, FAAP
A pediatric rheumatologist is a doctor who has specialized training to diagnose and treat autoimmune conditions that affect children.
Some of the most common reasons your child may be referred to a pediatric rheumatologist are joint swelling and stiffness, persistent unexplained fevers, rashes, weakness, and chronic inflammation.
What kind of training do pediatric rheumatologists have?
Pediatric rheumatologists are medical doctors who have had
At least 4 years of medical school
Three additional years of general pediatric residency training
Three years of fellowship training focusing on child and adolescent conditions and illnesses that affect the joints, muscles, bones, or other connective tissues throughout the body
Board certification by the American Board of Pediatrics in pediatrics and pediatric rheumatology
What conditions do pediatric rheumatologists treat?
A pediatric rheumatologist works with a pediatrician or family physician to evaluate and treat a variety of disorders, including:
Acute joint inflammation (arthritis)
Chronic arthritis including
juvenile idiopathic arthritis
Lupus and related conditions including Sjogren syndrome, scleroderma, and mixed connective tissue disease
Dermatomyositis and other forms of muscle inflammation
Vasculitis, which involves inflammation of the blood vessels. This includes
Henoch-Schonlein purpura, antineutrophil cytoplasmic antibody (ANCA)-associated vasculitis, and Behcets disease
Autoinflammatory syndromes including PFAPA (Periodic Fever, Aphthous Stomatitis, Pharyngitis, Adenitis) and other periodic fever syndromes
Chronic uveitis (eye inflammation)
What should I expect when I see a pediatric rheumatologist?
During your first visit your pediatric rheumatologist will get a thorough history of your child's symptoms, along with your family history. The doctor also will review recent labs and images, and perform a complete physical exam. In some situations, a diagnosis cannot be made at the first appointment and will require several follow up visits. In addition to the history and exam, a pediatric rheumatologist may recommend some of the following tests during the evaluation:
Imaging studies (X-ray, MRI, Ultrasound)
Laboratory studies (including blood and urine tests)
Respiratory function tests
Skin or muscle biopsy
Nerve conduction studies, which test electrical activity in nerves
Joint aspiration, which removes fluid from around joints such as the knee
Pediatric rheumatologists may work with other subspecialists (such as pediatric ophthalmologists, orthopedists, dermatologists, or nephrologists), or rehabilitation professionals (such as physical, occupational, or expressive therapists), as well as social workers, psychologists, nutritionists, and orthotists.
Where can I find a pediatric rheumatologist?
Pediatric rheumatologists practice in a variety of medical settings including children's hospitals, university medical centers, and large community hospitals.
Pediatric rheumatologists care for the unique needs of children
Children are not just small adults. Their bodies are growing and have unique medical needs. They usually express their concerns differently than adults. They cannot always answer medical questions and are not always able to be patient and cooperative. Pediatric rheumatologists know how to examine a child and understand how to gain the child's confidence and cooperation to the best of the child's developmental abilities.
If your pediatrician suggests that your child see a pediatric rheumatologist, you can be assured that your child will receive the best possible care.
To find a pediatrician or pediatric specialist in your area,
About Dr. Hahn
Timothy Hahn, MD, FAAP, is a fellow in Pediatric Rheumatology at Penn State Children's Hospital in Hershey Pennsylvania. He completed his medical degree at Georgetown University School of Medicine and completed his residency in general pediatrics at Penn State Children's Hospital. Within the American Academy of Pediatrics he is an executive committee member of the Section on Rheumatology.