Ankylosing spondylitis (AS) is a form of arthritis that affects the joints in your spine. The pain and stiffness aren’t confined to your spine though. It can extend to your shoulders, hips, hands, and feet.
An arthritis specialist — called a rheumatologist — will treat your AS. To help your doctor find the right drug or therapy and make sure that it works for you, take some time to prepare for your appointment.
Here are seven steps to help you get ready for your next rheumatologist visit.
Your rheumatologist can’t treat you without knowing how you feel. Keep a journal of your day-to-day symptoms. Include this information:
- Which joints hurt?
- When did the pain start? What were you doing when it started?
- What does it feel like — sharp, dull, throbbing, achy, tender?
- How severe is the pain on a scale of 1 to 10?
- How has it changed over the last few days or weeks?
- How does the pain impact your daily routine?
- Is it worse when you get up in the morning?
Your answers to these questions can help your doctor gauge how well your treatment is working and whether your treatment plan needs some adjustment.
Overloaded schedules force doctors to spend just 15 minutes, on average, with each patient. That’s not a lot of time when you consider all the issues you’ll need to discuss. Make the most of the time you have with your rheumatologist by writing up a list of questions beforehand. Carry around a small notebook or use your smartphone’s notepad to jot down questions as you think of them.
Sample questions might include:
- Do you think I’m on the best treatment for my symptoms?
- What kinds of improvements should I expect to see with my treatment?
- What other treatment options are available?
- What do you plan to do if I don’t see any improvement, or if my symptoms get worse?
- For how long should I stay on this drug?
- What should I do if I have side effects from my treatment?
- Could I benefit from seeing any other healthcare providers, like a physical therapist, pain management specialist, or nutritionist?
Keep a running list of all the drugs you take — including over-the-counter NSAIDs, TNF blockers, and IL-17 inhibitors. Also, include medicines you take to treat other conditions. List any herbal supplements or vitamins that are part of your daily regimen as well. Write down the dose, and when in the day (morning, evening) you take each drug.
You could also put all the medicines into a bag and bring them with you to your appointment, although a detailed list will take less time for your doctor to review,
Knowing exactly which medicines you take will help your doctor make changes to your drug regimen or add a new prescription if you need it. Your doctor can see right away if, for example, a new drug might interact with something you already take or you’re on too high a dose of any medicine.
Ask your partner, trusted friend, or family member to come with you to your appointment. They can take notes to let you stay focused on your conversation with your doctor. They can also remind you of any questions you’ve forgotten to ask or issues you were planning to bring up.
Your doctor might use imaging tests like an X-ray or MRI scan to look for changes in your bones or joints. For some of these tests, you might need to prepare by not eating or drinking for several hours, or by removing anything containing metal (such as hearing aids or dentures). Make sure you know what you need to do to prepare at least a few days before your test.
Because of time constraints, your doctor might keep the focus of your appointment on medical therapies. Yet lifestyle changes can also help you manage the symptoms of AS. If you haven’t covered these topics yet with your doctor, bring them up at your next appointment:
- how often you should exercise, and what types of workouts are best and safest for you
- whether you should use heat and/or cold, and if so, how often
- if you smoke, what methods you can try to help you quit
- how to get emotional support if you need it
Living with a painful chronic condition can be as hard on your mind as it is on your body. Don’t neglect your emotional state. If your rheumatologist can’t address your mental health needs, ask for a referral to a psychologist, psychiatrist, or counselor.