Question: Should I ask for a rheumatologist if I think I have arthritis, or can my family doctor do the job of diganosing my illness?
Answer: I think it's very important if you suspect, or someone suspects, that they may have an inflammatory arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis, that they be seen at least once in consultation by a rheumatologist. Inflammatory arthritis, again, is different than osteoarthritis, so it's different than a situation in which the problem is only in the joints.
There are other problems that can occur in the rest of the body that are really important to recognize and to manage. If you suspect you have an inflammatory arthritis, the symptoms of which might be stiffness in a joint or several joints lasting more than 45 minutes in the morning, swelling of several joints, redness or tenderness of several joints, or other complications like that, you should talk to your family doctor about seeing a rheumatologist at least for an evaluation. It may not be rheumatoid arthritis, it may not even be inflammatory arthritis, but it's important to make that decision early on.
Family physicians are good at recognizing arthritis, but they don't routinely treat a lot of patients with rheumatoid arthritis, and so they may not be either up on the subtleties of the disease, or, more importantly, they may not be as up to date on the newer treatments that really can control the disease process.
So again, if you suspect you have an inflammatory type of arthritis, I think it is important to be evaluated at least once by a rheumatologist to be sure that you have a correct diagnosis and be sure that you're embarking on the right course of therapy.