How to get a referral if you think you have arthritis

27 July 2022

So, you think you might have arthritis – but how do you get a referral? We look at what to do before and during your GP appointment, wait times, and what to expect when you see a rheumatologist.

Do I need a referral?

This depends on your symptoms. Joint swelling and inflammation that gets worse in the morning could be a sign of rheumatoid arthritis and you may need a referral to a rheumatologist, who specialises in autoimmune diseases.

If you’re over 45 and have persistent joint inflammation that gets worse after exercise, and you have little or no increased joint stiffness in the morning, you may be diagnosed with osteoarthritis.

This originates in the bone tissue and is not an autoimmune condition, so you probably won’t be referred to a rheumatologist. You may need blood tests and X-rays, however. The first step to getting a referral is talking to your GP.

What should I do before my GP appointment?

It’s a good idea to write down what you want to say, including symptom details, your medical history and any questions you have.

Take photos of any swelling or inflammation to help your GP see your symptoms to their full extent. If possible, get to know your family medical history.

Have any close relatives been diagnosed with arthritis? This information could be useful, especially for inflammatory arthritis.

On the day

Your GP will ask a range of questions, including how long your symptoms have been happening, which body parts are affected, and your medical history.

Be as clear as possible about your symptoms, as many conditions can mimic arthritis. Be specific about swelling or discolouration, and whether the pain gets worse or better at certain times of the day.

Your GP will probably examine your joints and you may be booked in for blood tests.

Getting your referral

In the UK, the average waiting time for a referral to a rheumatologist is 28 days. If your symptoms affect more than one joint and have lasted for longer than four weeks, you are likely to get a referral.

A rheumatologist will be able to take a more in-depth look at your symptoms and work towards a diagnosis.

If your referral takes longer than a few months, or if you feel you have been wrongly denied a referral, talk to your GP again.

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