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How to Handle RA at Work

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WebMD Feature
Reviewed by David Zelman, MD

Years ago, a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis might've meant you had to drop out of the workforce. Today, drugs that treat RA can manage symptoms so well that you can keep right on working.

Making small changes like these can also help.           

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Talk to your boss. Don’t be are afraid to ask for help. You might feel guilty or worry about sharing health information. But if you seek help, you may get what you need to do your best.

“The American with Disabilities Act says that [employers] must go the extra mile to accommodate a good employee [if you have 15 or more employees],” says David W. Smith. He's the director of the Disability Assessment Research Clinic at The University of Arizona Arthritis Center. “If you've been a good worker, employers are going to go all-out to keep you on the job.”

Involve your boss or human resources department early. “Don't wait until you're work-disabled to ask [for help],” says John Esdaile, MD, MPH. He's the scientific director of the Arthritis Research Centre of Canada. “Start talking about this problem before it's a problem.”

Take breaks. Pain and fatigue can make work harder, whether you sit, stand, or carry things. Ask your boss if you can take breaks or stretch at set times. If need be, have your doctor write a note.

You may need frequent rest periods, says Harry D. Fischer, MD. He's the chief of the division of rheumatology at Mount Sinai Beth Israel in New York. Or, if you sit for long periods, you may need to get up and move around so your joints don’t get stiff.

Change your workspace. Ask your boss if you can set up your work area in ways that help you avoid pain or injury.

Changes can be as simple as a new chair -- or a new keyboard that might be easier on your hands and wrists. Or, you can ask to get your computer monitor and chair adjusted so they're the right height for you, Esdaile says. 

“Work accommodations can often be really cheap,” he says, and they "can make a world of difference.” 

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