Rheumatoid arthritis: I have it, what now?

A rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis can be sobering: it can cause joint damage and disability, disrupt people's lives, affecting their relationships and draining their financial resources. But you can approach the disease in the right way.

Rheumatoid arthritis: I have it, what now?

Don’t panic

  • The great majority of people who are diagnosed with RA have relatively mild symptoms that can be controlled with proper treatment.
  • Furthermore, breakthrough treatments for RA have been introduced in just the past few years, and the pace of research indicates that and even better treatments are on the horizon.

Tell your friends and family

  • Even people with mild cases of RA can expect to experience periodic flares — sudden worsening of the inflammation that can temporarily disable a person with pain and fatigue.
  • If family and friends are aware of this and other RA-related complications, they'll be more understanding and more willing to pitch in to help when you're not feeling up to par.

Choose the right doctor

  • If you've been diagnosed with RA, you owe it to yourself and your family to be treated by a rheumatologist, a physician who specializes in treating rheumatoid and other types of arthritis.
  • More than most other diseases, RA demands close monitoring and fine-tuning of treatment to prevent permanent joint damage.
  • You need a doctor who is experienced in treating RA and who is familiar with the latest treatments.
  • It is also important to choose a doctor you feel comfortable with, since the two of you will be working closely to develop an effective treatment plan.

Assemble a healthcare team

In general, people with RA do best under the care of several health care professionals. In addition to your physician, you may benefit from working with a physiotherapist (who can help you set up an exercise program) and a psychologist or mental health professional (who can steer you through the periods of depression and helplessness that RA patients may experience).

In RA, patient and doctor work together to achieve several goals:

  • Alleviate pain, stiffness, swelling, fatigue and other symptoms
  • Reduce the inflammation
  • Slow down or halt the joint damage
  • Limit RA's interference with a patient's life

Set realistic goals

  • This is important for people with any type of arthritis — but especially RA, a disease that can pose significant physical and emotional challenges.
  • Setting and meeting realistic goals is vital to coping with the condition.
  • Make use of resources.
  • People with RA can benefit greatly from a wide variety of resources, including the programs and self-help courses sponsored by their local Arthritis Society chapter, as well as support groups and health information offered on the Internet.

Drugs can put out the fire

  • Virtually all people diagnosed with RA must rely on drugs to control their disease.
  • The arsenal of drugs falls generally into two classes: NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) and DMARDs (disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs). Successful treatment of RA usually requires the person with RA to take both types.
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