You do your best to live a full, active life with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). But do you recognize any of these common missteps? If they sound familiar, it’s not too late to get back on track.
1. Not Seeing a Rheumatologist
Your regular doctor may have diagnosed your RA. It’s still a good idea to see a specialist, too.
Rheumatologists are doctors who are experts in treating RA and other types of arthritis. A rheumatologist will have the most training in the medicines that treat RA and in finding the right ones for you. If you don’t have one, ask your primary care doctor for a referral.
2. Too Much Couch Time
You need rest, just not too much.
When you have joint pain and fatigue, it's hard to get up and get moving. But regular exercise is key for your health. Too much idle time makes pain, fatigue, and stiffness worse.
When your RA flares, slow down but don’t stop. Do gentle flexibility exercises, like yoga and tai chi. You may also be able to do some exercises in a warm pool, but take it easy.
When you feel better, step up your activity. Add strength training (you can use weight machines at a gym, handheld weights, resistance bands, or your own body weight) to strengthen the muscles around your joints. You should also do cardio for your heart, bones, and mood.
Talk to your rheumatologist, or a physical or occupational therapist, about the best exercises for you. Walking can be a good exercise for people with RA. It’s low-impact, and you can do it anywhere for free. Swimming and water aerobics are also good choices.
3. Canceling Doctor Appointments
When you feel good, do you stop seeing your doctor? You need those regular checkups to keep feeling good and to keep your treatment on track.
During regular visits, your rheumatologist will check on how you’re doing, how well your treatment is going, whether you have any side effects, and tweak your treatment, if needed.
In addition to seeing your doctor, you also may need lab tests or X-rays now and then. Make sure you keep those appointments, too.
4. Not Taking All Your Medications
If your doctor prescribed more than one RA medicine, there’s a good reason for that. One of those drugs may ease your pain, while the other helps to stop joint damage.
If you’re not sure what your drugs do or why you need them, ask your doctor. Also tell her if side effects or costs are problems. She can help you look for solutions, whether it’s another drug or help with costs, so you can keep up with your treatment.
5. Skipping Medication When You Feel Good
You may be tempted to skip your medications on days when you’re feeling better. Don’t do that.
Missing a dose could cause the pain to return, and it may be harder to get relief later. Your RA could also worsen.
Some drugs need to stay in your bloodstream at specific levels in order to be effective. If you skip them too often, blood levels of the medication will drop and you could end up with a flare of your RA. You might forget a dose once in a while, and that's OK. Just take it as soon as you remember (but don't take a double dose).
6. Overlooking Your Mood
RA can be painful and challenging. It’s normal to feel sad about that at times. But if you start to feel depressed -- for instance, your blue feelings don’t lift, and you don’t enjoy the things you used to like -- tell your doctor so you can get treated and feel better.
Your doctor can refer you to a counselor for “talk therapy” and prescribe antidepressants if needed. You may also want to join a support group for people with RA, such as those offered by the Arthritis Foundation. Ask your doctor for more information.