How to Manage Your RA If You Can’t Visit Your Doctor

Medically Reviewed by David Zelman, MD on August 04, 2022
3 min read

If you live with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), you may be taking a medication called hydroxychloroquine to manage symptoms such as joint pain, swelling, stiffness, and redness. It’s an effective prescription drug for treating RA and other autoimmune conditions.

At one point, hydroxychloroquine was considered for treating SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, but that is no longer the case. Still, many patients will ask about it. 

Here’s what to know about managing your RA if you can’t visit your doctor or have trouble getting your regular medications.

If you can’t refill your prescription right away, you can talk with your doctor about lowering your dose or even stop taking it for a while without worsening your symptoms.

You may not be able to visit your doctor’s office right now unless you have an urgent reason. But you can still call your doctor or use telemedicine and ask if it’s possible to change how much hydroxychloroquine you take.

Several other RA medications also come in a pill. Talk to your doctor about them. They include:

NSAIDs. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can lessen joint inflammation and pain. Some, such as ibuprofen and naproxen, are sold over the counter. Others are prescription drugs.

Steroids. The corticosteroid prednisone can cut inflammation and slow joint damage. Sometimes it’s prescribed for short periods when symptoms flare, but then lowered or stopped to avoid harmful side effects.

DMARDs. Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs like hydroxychloroquine can slow your RA and prevent joint damage. Other DMARDs include leflunomide, methotrexate, sulfasalazine, and tofacitinib.

Many hospitals are limiting visits to only people who may have COVID-19 or serious illnesses or injuries. But infusion centers may still be open. You can get certain medications through an IV tube or a shot.

Infusion centers also give you more RA treatment choices. They include drugs called biologics, newer forms of DMARDs that target and tamp down parts of the immune system that trigger inflammation and joint damage.

You may be more likely to get an infection when you’re on biologic drugs. Talk to your doctor about whether they’re a good choice for you.

Flares are periods when your symptoms and joint inflammation get worse. They can happen even when you’re doing everything you can to control your RA.

To manage a flare, try:

  • A few days of rest
  • Cool packs on painful joints
  • Gentle exercise, such as stretches and walks
  • Hot showers or baths

If your flares last longer than a few days, call your doctor. If they happen often, it might be time to try a different medication.

Complications from RA or its treatments can sometimes turn serious. Call your doctor if your symptoms include:

  • Those similar to flu, like fever, headache, and body aches
  • Rash
  • Severe joint pain and swelling that’s worse than a usual flare
  • Bruising or easy bleeding
  • Mouth sores
  • Sudden belly pain if you’re taking tocilizumab or tofacitinib

Go the ER right away if you have:

  • High fever with a rash
  • Sudden, severe belly pain
  • Swollen, red-hot joints
  • Severe, unusual flare symptoms
  • Sudden spine pain