A rheumatologist is more of a detective than a physician.
It is his or her task to take a symptom as subjective as pain and mold it into a stone-cold diagnosis. Starting on Oct. 8, rheumatologist Dr. James Anderson has been taking appointments the second Thursday of every month at Hillsboro Community Hospital’s Specialty Clinic, seeing patients with more than 100 types of arthritis, lupus, and other immune diseases.
Anderson splits his time between his offices in Kansas City, Wichita, Russell, and Hillsboro but spends most of his time in Kansas City. He sees 15 to 25 patients a day, most of whom are suffering from rheumatoid arthritis or lupus.
Anderson said that both rheumatoid arthritis and lupus are difficult to diagnose. Rheumatoid arthritis manifests as an inflammation of joints. It is a chronic condition that can inconsistently flare up or stay dormant. Lupus is an autoimmune disease that causes the body to attack its own tissues. Lupus can cause inflammation and, consequently, nearly constant pain.
Anderson will run a patient through a battery of different tests. Sometimes, Anderson said that it can take months or years to diagnose either disease.
He also sees plenty of patients with the most common type of arthritis — osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis is the deterioration of cartilage over time and is a normal part of aging.
Anderson said treatment for osteoarthritis is surgery. A patient then is sent to an orthopedic surgeon. He said that joint replacement surgery, most commonly in knees and hips, has revolutionized treatment.
The treatment for rheumatoid arthritis and lupus more often involves chemotherapy drugs and steroids. The side effects, for both of these solutions, are severe.
Anderson doesn’t just stick to traditional pharmacological solutions. He said that he will sometimes employ physical therapy, hot and cold therapy, or stretching exercises to treat patients.
He is also involved with pharmaceutical research. His patients were part of the clinical trials for Celebrex, for arthritis, and Reclast, for osteoporosis.
“Less than half (of the drugs) actually get approved,” Anderson said of clinical trials in general.
When Anderson is not being a doctor, he spends time with his two children, seven stepchildren, and a grandchild, born Oct. 7.
He has also been a pilot since 1978. He flies his Cessna 172 whenever he gets a chance.
“Outreach clinics are the perfect excuse to fly,” he said.