The pain of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can make even simple tasks feel impossible. Even if you're doing everything right, you may still have pain and stiffness some days. Treatment of RA takes time and often a bit of fine-tuning. But that doesn't mean you need to accept painful flares.
Are you taking your RA medications like clock-work?
It's important to take your medicine at the same time each day. This helps you keep a constant, effective level in your blood. Skipping doses can trigger a flare.
If you’ve just started taking disease-modifying medicine such as methotrexate, you should know that it may take weeks or even months to feel the full benefits. Try to be patient and give the medicines a chance to really work.
If you have an upset stomach or other side effects, call your doctor. There are often things you can do to ease side effects.
Have you asked your doctor about switching medications?
If your medications used to work and don’t seem to help anymore, ask your doctor about a change. Some types of disease-modifying drugs may become less effective with time. Your doctor may suggest a different drug or add a new drug, such as a biologic, to your treatment. Combination treatment using methotrexate with a biologic like Cimzia, Enbrel, Humira, Remicade, or Rituxan are showing good results.
Are you getting regular checkups to monitor the progression of your RA?
The medications used to treat RA can weaken your body’s immune system. This actually helps slow the progression of RA, which is an autoimmune disease. But it can also increase your risk of infections, as well as liver and kidney problems. You need regular checkups and blood tests to monitor how RA affects your body. These tests can also help your doctor reduce side effects of your medications and fine-tune your treatment.
Have you tried alternative remedies for pain control?
No one understands why, but it's a fact: Mind-body therapies and other alternative treatments can help some people control chronic pain. They don't help everyone, but they may be worth a try. Studies show that meditation and biofeedback help some people reduce their sense of pain -- and increase their ability to cope with it. Massage may help lessen your pain and stiffness and relieve stress. Acupuncture has been shown to reduce pain in other conditions, although it's not well researched for RA. If you're considering an alternative therapy, talk to your doctor first. Some herbs or supplements could interfere with your medications.
Are you sure you're seeing the right doctor?
You want a doctor who is responsive to your needs, and has time to work through the best treatment plan for you. Your doctor should be willing to make adjustments to your treatment if you're not feeling better. Your doctor should be willing to refer you to other health professionals who can be a part of your care team, including alternative medicine practitioners, rheumatologists, and physical therapists. If you don't feel like you can work closely with your current doctor, consider looking for a rheumatologist who clicks with you. Relationships are important in medical care. You deserve a good relationship with a doctor who listens to what you say.