Your Medical Team for Rheumatoid Arthritis

Living with rheumatoid arthritis can be a challenge. Luckily, you don't have to do it alone. You can build a great team of professional health care providers who will help you. There are several key players you should turn to.

Your Rheumatologist

This is a medical doctor who specializes in arthritis and other joint and muscle diseases. She's the star of your RA treatment team. You’ll see her regularly. She'll keep your treatment on track and work with you to manage your condition.

You should tell your rheumatologist how you’re doing, including any activities that give you trouble or questions you have about your medicine. She can also put you in touch with other pros you want on your team.

Your Regular Doctor

You may also see a primary care doctor, who will work with you on your overall health. You’ll see her for checkups. She can also give you referrals to other specialists.

Your Physical Therapist

PTs help you get stronger. They can make an exercise plan for you. Remember, your joints will be healthier if you're active. Your PT will help make that happen.

Your Occupational Therapist

If rheumatoid arthritis starts to slow you down, or if daily tasks become hard, a visit with an occupational therapist will probably help. They have a playbook of "work-arounds" to let you continue to live your own way. They can also provide or recommend assistive devices that will smooth out the rough spots in your daily routine, like special gadgets to make cooking or computer work easier.

Your Psychologist, Psychiatrist, or Social Worker

RA can be stressful. Don’t hesitate to see a professional if it starts to get to you. Often, talking things through can help you find different approaches that will work better for you.

Social workers can help you navigate the health care system, counsel you during tough times, and help you find community or government resources to get more care and support.

Psychologists and psychiatrists provide counseling, psychotherapy, or stress management therapy. Psychiatrists can also prescribe medication, such as antidepressants, if needed.

Your Orthopedic Surgeon

You may never need surgery for your RA. Today’s medicines can stop or slow down the disease. If however there is a lot of joint damage that is affecting your ability to function your rheumatologist may refer you for surgery such as joint replacement.

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4 Tips to Work With Your Team

1. Bring your medical record with you to your appointment.

2. Communicate. Make sure each team member knows about important changes, like recent surgeries, hospitalizations, or changes in what medications you take.

3. Keep your appointments.

4. Ask questions. You should be able to ask any of the people on your team about anything that’s on your mind.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by David Zelman, MD on February 13, 2018

Sources

SOURCES: 

Association of Rheumatology Health Professionals: "Building an Interdisciplinary Team." 

Klippel, J., Primer on the Rheumatic Diseases, 12th edition, Arthritis Foundation, 2001.

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