Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system attacks the joints. Although symptoms wax and wane, it’s a chronic disease. If you have been diagnosed with RA, you will be dealing with it for the rest of your life. Therefore, it’s important to learn as much as you can about your diagnosis.
You will likely see a number of different types of doctors over the course of your RA treatment.
Internist/Family Practice Physician
Your primary care provider (PCP) should be your first stop if you experience any RA symptoms. Your PCP can start your RA diagnosis. They can also refer you to a rheumatologist or other doctor for further treatment.
This type of doctor has special training in joint and connective tissue diseases. If you are diagnosed with RA, your rheumatologist will determine the best way to treat you. A rheumatologist will also monitor your symptoms and test results.
An orthopedist is a surgeon who specializes in bones and joints. If your rheumatologist suspects joint damage, you may be referred to an orthopedist for further tests. This type of doctor will perform any surgery you need.
Physical therapists help people maintain and restore movement and function lost to injury and disease. If you have RA, a physical therapist can help you create an exercise program to improve joint strength and function. Your therapist may also offer tips on reducing pain.
Occupational therapists help people with disabilities learn to perform everyday tasks more effectively. If you have RA, an occupational therapist can teach you ways to live your life with less pain. This might include learning new ways to bend or reach for things. Occupational therapists can also provide assistive devices such as splints and grabbing tools.
Before going to see a doctor about your RA, it can help to have a list of questions prepared. Some things you might want to ask include:
- Are you certain that I have RA?
- What are the benefits of starting treatment right away?
- What treatments do you recommend?
- What are the potential side effects of treatment?
- How should I deal with RA pain?
- Are there any alternative treatments that might help with my symptoms?
- Should I see any other doctors for RA care?
- How can you help me cope with the changes RA is making in my daily life?
- What are the long-term complications of RA?
- Are there any symptoms I should be particularly on the lookout for?
- Do you think I will need surgery to deal with my RA symptoms?
RA is an illness that will be with you for the rest of your life. For some people, this can be very stressful. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), some people with RA develop serious mental health problems, including anxiety and depression.
When coping with RA, some people get all the help they need from family and friends. Others find it useful to join a support group for RA sufferers. You can ask your rheumatologist whether there is an RA support group near you.
Taking control of your treatment may also help you cope. Talk to your doctor about finding ways to actively manage your symptoms and pain.
Finally, don’t forget to be aware of your limits. It’s important to stay as active as possible, but pushing yourself too hard can cause more fatigue and damage. Rest when you need to and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Taking care of yourself now can keep you healthier in the future.