Rheumatoid arthritis is a painful and debilitating chronic disorder. It affects approximately 1.5 million Americans according to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. This inflammatory condition has no cure. However, even the most severe forms of RA can be managed more effectively by working closely with your healthcare provider.
Your doctor will help you cope with your symptoms and create the best possible treatment plan. According to The Arthritis Society, patients who make the effort to learn more about their treatment and discuss their treatment in depth with their doctor report less pain and symptoms. They may also experience better mobility.
Below are some important points to discuss with your doctor if you have RA. Discussing these matters with your doctor can help you better manage your condition.
For the best possible RA treatment plan, you need to explain your symptoms to your doctor in specific detail. Understanding exactly what you’re feeling will help your doctor make any necessary changes to your treatment plan.
When you talk to your doctor about your symptoms, you may want to bring up the following:
- how often you are experiencing symptoms such as pain, stiffness, and swelling
- specify the joints where you are experiencing the symptoms
- the intensity of your pain on a scale from one to 10
- any new or unusual symptoms such as increased pain, fatigue, or nodules under the skin
Describe to your doctor the effects that RA has on your lifestyle. These effects offer a good indicator of how well your treatment is working. Think about how your condition affects your ability to go about your daily activities. Pay attention to the emotional distress that your condition is causing. Dealing with chronic pain can be very upsetting and stressful, as well as emotionally draining. Ask yourself the following questions and discuss the answers with your doctor:
- Does the pain and stiffness make it difficult or impossible to perform simple activities such as getting dressed, cooking, or driving?
- What activities are causing you the most pain?
- What do you have difficulty doing (or can no longer do) since your diagnosis?
- Is your condition causing you to feel depressed or anxious?
RA can be managed far better today than even a few years ago thanks to the numerous treatment options available.
Nathan Wei, MD is a board-certified rheumatologist with more than 30 years of practice and clinical research experience and Director of the Arthritis Treatment Center in Frederick, Maryland. When asked for advice to patients who need to discuss RA treatment with their doctor, he said, “First and foremost, patients should be reassured that their prognosis is a good one. Most patients can be put into remission with the meds we use today.” According to Wei, “patients should also ask questions about the type of meds that will be used, when they will be used, potential side effects and what they can expect as far as benefits.”
Managing your RA isn’t just about finding the right medication. Though prescription medications may go a long way to alleviate symptoms even in those with severe RA, adding simple natural remedies to your treatment plan can also be beneficial, according to Carolyn Dean, MD, ND, a Medical Advisory Board Member of the non-profit Nutritional Magnesium Association.
“What’s often missing from an RA protocol [are] simple remedies to help with pain and inflammation and the toxicity of medications,” says Dean. “In my experience I find that magnesium in its many forms is very useful. Drugs used for RA drain magnesium from the body. Magnesium is a very powerful anti-inflammatory.” She recommends asking your doctor for a simple blood test to check to see if more magnesium is needed in your diet, adding that “oral magnesium in the form of powdered magnesium citrate dissolved in water and sipped through the day can be very helpful.” Dean also recommends soaking your feet or hands in Epsom salts (magnesium sulfate). She alternately recommends adding two or three cups of it to a bath and soaking for 30 minutes (if you are able to navigate a bathtub).
Ask your doctor whether or not you should be referred to a physiotherapist or occupational therapist. It has been found that adding physiotherapy and rehabilitation applications to a patient’s RA treatment plan can greatly improve symptoms and mobility. Improvements in these areas allow a patient to more easily carry out day-to-day activities.