There is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis (RA), but effective treatment can help control your symptoms, prevent joint damage, and empower you to have an active lifestyle.
Many people with RA need to change their treatment plan at some point in their lifetime. No single treatment plan works for everyone. If your current treatment plan isn’t working, it’s time to book an appointment with your doctor. They will likely recommend a combination of medications and self-management strategies to help you get your symptoms under control.
Here are some questions to ask them during your appointment.
Do I need to undergo tests?
During your appointment, your doctor will likely ask you about your symptoms, medications, and lifestyle habits. They may also order one or more tests to assess your condition.
For example, they might order:
- blood or urine tests to check for signs of inflammation
- X-rays or other scans to look for signs of joint damage
- psychological tests to learn how you’re coping emotionally
In some cases, your doctor might refer you to another healthcare provider for testing or treatment.
Should I change my medication?
There are many medications available to treat RA. The first-line treatment is disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs). These drugs can help relieve your symptoms and prevent joint damage. Many different types of DMARDs are available.
Your doctor might also prescribe other medications, such as:
- nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- low-dose corticosteroids
- biologic agents
Bring a list of medications and supplements that you take to your appointment, including any that you take for other conditions. If your current treatment plan isn’t working, consider asking your doctor the following:
- Should I adjust my current medication dosage?
- Should I change when or how I take my current medication?
- Are there other medications that might help relieve my symptoms?
- Are there side effects associated with my prescribed medication?
- How can I recognize and manage potential side effects from my medication?
If you forget to take your medications on a regular basis, ask your doctor for tips on how to remember.
Should I adjust my exercise habits?
Regular physical activity is important for good physical and mental health. When you have RA, walking and other low-impact exercises can help you manage your weight and increase your muscle strength. This can help limit the pressure on your joints. Stretching is also important for maintaining good range of motion.
On the other hand, exercising too vigorously can put added strain on your joints.
If you suspect that your current exercise habits might be making your RA worse, ask your doctor these questions:
- Should I make changes to my fitness routine?
- Am I exercising enough? Am I exercising too much?
- Are there certain exercises that I should add to my routine or avoid?
- Are there specialists, exercise classes, or other resources that can help me stay active?
A physical or occupational therapist can help you develop an exercise routine that’s safe for you. They can also help you adjust your day-to-day activities in ways that protect your joints.
Should I adjust my diet?
A well-balanced diet can also help you manage your weight and maintain good overall health with RA.
If you’re having difficulty managing your weight or diet, here are a few questions to ask your doctor:
- Should I make changes to my eating habits?
- Are there certain foods that I should eat more or less often?
- Are there specialists, support groups, or other resources that can help me adjust my diet or lose weight?
A nutritionist or registered dietitian can help you develop an eating plan that works well for you.
Are there other steps I can take to manage my condition?
In addition to medication, regular exercise, and a well-balanced diet, your doctor might recommend other strategies for managing your condition. For example, they might encourage you to:
- use a heating pad or take a warm bath to sooth stiff joints and tense muscles
- apply a cold pack to relieve acute pain
- try massage, acupressure, or acupuncture
- practice meditation or other stress-relieving activities
- join a support group for people with RA
Is it time to consider surgery?
If other treatments don’t provide the relief you seek, it might be time to consider surgery. Depending on your condition, you might be a good candidate for:
- tendon repair surgery
- synovectomy, which is surgery to remove the inflamed lining of a joint
- joint fusion, which can help stabilize a joint when replacement isn’t an option
- joint replacement, in which your surgeon replaces damaged parts of a joint with a metal or plastic prosthesis
Ask your doctor for more information about the potential benefits and risks of different surgeries. If they think that you might be a good candidate, they may refer you to an orthopedic surgeon.
When you have a chronic condition like RA, it’s important to schedule regular checkups with your doctor. Bring a list of questions with you and take notes during your appointment.
It’s also important to be as honest as possible. For example, if you forget to take your medications or rarely exercise, don’t hide those facts from your doctor. They might be able to help you develop a treatment plan that is easier to follow and strategies to help you stick with it.