First Steps After Rheumatoid Arthritis Diagnosis

Medically Reviewed by David Zelman, MD on September 10, 2022
4 min read

So your doctor has told you that you have rheumatoid arthritis. It’s natural to be worried about the future, but you’ve already taken one important step: Getting the correct diagnosis.

Now what? You can do a number of things to meet the challenges of having RA in your life.

There’s so much to learn about RA. For example, before your diagnosis, your first symptom was likely joint pain. But as the disease continues, it can affect other parts of your body as well. When you know what to look for, you can make sure your doctor is aware of any new symptoms.

Here’s something else you might not know: Living with RA today is not the same as it was 10 or 15 years ago. Treatments have come a long way since then. Your quality of life is likely to be far better than was possible in the past.

Talk to your doctor about the basics. And ask them where to find trustworthy online resources that can provide more in-depth information.

You can even take community or online self-management classes. They teach you how to control your symptoms and how to work around them without disrupting your life too much.

You’re the pivot point between your primary care doctor and your rheumatologist (arthritis specialist). Each needs to know what the other is doing. This is especially true if you're also being treated for other conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure.

Once you choose your doctors, speak to someone in each office to make sure they have open lines of communication. Your insurance company might even provide someone to help coordinate your treatment.

You and your doctor will work together to come up with a set of treatment goals that fit your lifestyle, along with a plan to reach them.

One common approach is to "treat to target," or T2T. This means you reassess your treatment every few months to see how close you are to your goals. Then, together with your doctor, you can adjust the treatment accordingly.

For example, you might decide on goals like:

  • Less daily pain
  • Less daily swelling
  • Improved range of motion and strength
  • Better quality of life
  • Improvement that lasts at least 3 years.

For this to work, you must be open with your doctor about all your symptoms and your lifestyle.

Regular physical activity seems to help with RA symptoms. It's also good for your mental health. And it lessens your risk of other conditions like diabetes and heart disease.

You don’t have to train for a marathon. About 30 minutes a day is fine. You can even break it up into three 10-minute sessions a day. Just try to make it add up to at least 150 minutes a week.

You may be worried that certain types of exercise will worsen your RA. If you’re unsure how to safely work out, look for exercise programs designed for people with joint and inflammation conditions. Look online, check with your local YMCA or community center, or ask your doctor to point you in the right direction.

Smoking tends to worsen RA symptoms. It might also keep some treatments from working as well as they should. Plus, it’s harder to exercise when you smoke. Look online for resources to help you quit. ( is a good place to start.)

Just 10 extra pounds can put as much 40 more pounds of pressure on painful, swollen joints like your knees and hips. And when you lose weight, you lose fat. Fewer fat cells could mean fewer hormones to inflame your joints.

Talk to your doctor about the right weight range for your health and body type.

Healthy eating can lessen the inflammation that sometimes causes joint pain. Choose whole foods rather than processed ones. Vegetables, fruits, lean protein, whole grains, and low-fat dairy should make up most of your diet.

Certain foods may help fight inflammation in your body. They include:

It can be overwhelming to get a serious diagnosis like RA. Don’t hesitate to reach out for help.

Connect with others in a support group in person or online (try the Live Yes! Arthritis Network from the Arthritis Foundation). Or ask your doctor for a referral for one-on-one mental health therapy.