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Rheumatoid Arthritis: Avoiding 6 Common Mistakes

Most people with rheumatoid arthritis can live full, active lives despite their disease. But living a good life with RA often means you need to work at managing your disease and get the help you need. Take care to avoid these six common mistakes.

RA Mistake 1: Not Seeing a Rheumatologist

If you’re like most people with RA, the first doctor you saw for your joint symptoms was a primary care physician. But a specialist has more training in treating RA.

Just 20 years ago, RA was often treated with medications that relieved pain but didn't stop ongoing joint damage. Today, there are many new, effective -- and highly complex -- treatments for rheumatoid arthritis that do both. It's important to see a rheumatologist, who has the training and experience to prescribe and monitor those medications.

If you haven't seen a rheumatologist, your primary care doctor should be able to refer you to one. The American College of Rheumatology (ACR) also lists rheumatologists in your area. 

Mistake 2: Becoming a Couch Potato

When you have joint pain and fatigue, it's hard to get up and get moving. But regular exercise is one of the best things that you can do for your health. While rest is also important for managing your disease, too much inactivity can make pain, fatigue, and stiffness worse.

Even when your RA is flaring, you can -- and should -- do gentle range-of-motion exercises. Range-of-motion exercises help maintain joint movement and flexibility by taking joints through their full span of movements. No weights are used.

You may also be able to gently exercise in water during flares.

When your disease is less active, you should be more active. Add exercises to build muscle strength and joint stability and improve aerobic fitness.

Talk to your rheumatologist or a physical or occupational therapist about the best and safest exercises for you. Walking can be a good exercise for people with RA, and it doesn't even require going to a gym! Warm-water aerobic exercise may be another choice to consider -- the water gives sore joints some additional support.

Mistake 3: Skipping Doctor Appointments

While you may not feel the need to see your rheumatologist when your RA is less active, keeping your appointments is still important. 

During regular visits, your doctor will:

  • Monitor the course of your disease
  • Determine how well your treatment is working
  • Look for harmful side effects
  • Adjust your treatment, if necessary

In addition to seeing your doctor, you also may need periodic lab tests or X-rays. It's important that keep those appointments, too.

Mistake 4: Not Taking Prescribed Medications

Pain relievers and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may help your joints feel better. But they do nothing to stop the joint damage that is going on inside. That requires a more powerful disease-modifying antirheumatic drug (DMARD) or biologic response modifier, or both.

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