When you have rheumatoid arthritis, your doctor can guide your treatment, but you are the key to its success. From taking your medications as prescribed to taking care of yourself, you need to be a partner in your care. Here are 10 actions you can take now that will help you live better with RA.
Find the Right Doctor
The first doctor you saw for joint pain was probably your family physician. But a rheumatologist -- a doctor specially trained to diagnose and treat arthritis and related diseases -- can help manage your RA. Rheumatologists can prescribe complex treatments to control RA, including disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) and biologic agents.
In some cases, you may see only a rheumatologist for your RA treatment. In others, your primary care doctor may consult with your rheumatologist to provide treatment.
If you don't have a rheumatologist, ask your primary care doctor for a referral, or contact the Arthritis Foundation or American College of Rheumatology for names of rheumatologists in your area.
Find Out More About Rheumatoid Arthritis
When you are diagnosed with RA, it's important to learn as much as you can about it. In addition to talking with your doctor, programs such as the Arthritis Foundation's Arthritis Self-Help Program can also be helpful. These programs teach about RA treatment, exercises, relaxation techniques, and how to work with your doctor and other providers. Research has shown these programs can help people:
- Understand RA
- Reduce joint pain
- Stay active
- Cope with the disease
- Have a greater sense of control over the disease and their lives
Teach Your Family About RA
Sometimes it’s hard for others to understand how you can feel so bad when you look healthy. Teaching those close to you about RA will help them understand the disease and how best to support you.
To educate friends and family members about RA:
- Take them to doctor's appointments with you.
- Give them written materials from your doctor or organizations like the Arthritis Foundation or National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases.
- Invite them to attend meetings of the Arthritis Foundation Arthritis Self-Help Program or other support groups with you.
Take Your Medications as Prescribed
While over-the-counter pain relievers may help ease joint pain, most people with RA need prescription medications such as DMARDs or biologics.
Years ago, doctors only prescribed DMARDs if aspirin and other pain relievers failed to bring relief. Today, they are likely to prescribe a DMARD soon after you are diagnosed. Studies have shown that starting these drugs earlier may be more effective in reducing or preventing joint damage.
If your doctor recommends a DMARD and you don't take it, you risk serious joint damage that cannot be repaired. Missing doses of DMARDs or biologics could also cause a drop in the blood level of the drugs, potentially leading to a flare of your RA.
It’s important to take medication your doctor prescribes as directed. If you are taking medicine for pain and inflammation and you miss a dose, pain and inflammation could return and be more difficult to relieve this time.