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Treating Rheumatoid Arthritis: Questions to Ask Your Doctor

If you have rheumatoid arthritis, early and aggressive treatment can help you forestall joint damage and worsening pain. But all treatments have some side effects. To help you develop a good treatment plan for your RA, here are 10 questions to ask your doctor.

1. Is a DMARD appropriate for me?

Treatment for rheumatoid arthritis is complex -- as much art as science -- but certain drugs called DMARDs (disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs) have the ability to change the course of this disease in many people. Methotrexate is helpful for most people, but each person's treatment plan is unique. Make sure you feel comfortable with your treatment plan by asking questions.

2. Are the new "biologic" injectable medicines a good treatment option for me?

Biologic agents like Actemra, Enbrel, Humira, Orencia, Rituxan, Kineret, Remicade, Cimzia, and Simponi have become powerful tools in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. People with moderate to severe RA are frequently candidates for these therapies. These drugs are genetically engineered proteins that are derived from human genes. They inhibit the immune system, which plays a key role in inflammation in RA.

3. Can we ever consider stopping treatment or taking a drug holiday?

It's a bad idea to stop treatment for active rheumatoid arthritis. In special cases, if your disease is particularly mild or inactive, your doctor may consider pausing therapy and closely monitoring you.

4. What has been the rate of progression of my rheumatoid arthritis?

The course of rheumatoid arthritis is especially important but can be hard to predict. But looking at past progression can often help predict future progression.

5. What medication side effects have you noticed so far?

Your doctor might notice some side effects during an exam, like thinning of the skin from steroid use. Discovering others, like liver inflammation from methotrexate, requires lab testing.

6. Can you tell whether my joints have been damaged?

At each appointment, your doctor will examine your joints. You’ll also need regular tests like X-rays and labs. These are ways of checking how the disease has progressed and whether you need changes in your treatment.

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What regular treatments are you taking for RA?