9 Questions to Ask Your Doctor About Moderate-to-Severe RA

9 Questions to Ask Your Doctor About Moderate-to-Severe RA

A guide for people managing moderate-to-severe RA, with questions about symptoms and treatments.

Rheumatoid arthritis, often referred to as RA, is an autoimmune disease where the body’s immune system attacks healthy tissues, causing chronic inflammation in the joints, as well as other areas of the body. Pain, aching, stiffness, tenderness and swelling in multiple joints on both sides of the body are the most common symptoms. RA is a progressive condition, meaning it tends to get worse over time. Millions of people worldwide are living with RA.

There is no cure for RA, though there are numerous treatments available, and there are a number of steps that patients can take that may lessen the severity of symptoms and slow the progression of the disease. If you have been diagnosed with RA, the questions and topics below can help you discuss managing and treating the condition with your rheumatologist.

Discuss how you are feeling
Be prepared to discuss how you’ve been feeling overall. This includes your physical wellbeing as well as your state of mind and your emotional wellbeing—RA can be a tough condition to manage, and takes a significant emotional and physical toll on many patients.

Discuss your symptoms
Update your healthcare provider about your symptoms. Are your symptoms improving or getting worse? How often are you experiencing symptoms? Have you noticed a difference in symptoms or any new symptoms? Remember that RA affects the entire body, and can cause symptoms in areas other than your joints. Other symptoms of RA can include fatigue, tiredness, fever, loss of appetite, weight loss and malaise.

Discuss your current treatment
If you’ve been prescribed a medication for RA, talk to your healthcare provider about how you’ve been feeling while using that treatment. Your healthcare provider will need to know if you have noticed a difference in symptoms, if you’re experiencing side effects from the medication and if you have been able to take the medication on schedule. Always be as honest as possible. If your current treatment is causing side effects or not achieving the result you want, ask about other treatment options.

Discuss tests to help monitor RA
Your healthcare provider may use a number of diagnostic tests to monitor RA. These can include blood tests to check for substances that indicate inflammation in the body, imaging tests to examine the damage to the joints and physical exams to assess joint mobility, joint pain, joint swelling and deformity, and the presence of rheumatoid nodules of the skin.

Ask about your overall health
Though the inflammation caused by RA is most often and most noticeably felt in the joints, it affects the entire body. RA can lead to a number of complications, including osteoporosis and fractures, coronary artery disease (a type of heart disease), depression and anxiety, lung disease and certain types of cancer. RA can also cause inflammation in the eyes, which can lead to permanent damage and vision loss. This inflammation can also damage the tear ducts and the moisture-producing glands in the mouth, leading to chronic dry eyes and mouth dryness. Keeping regular appointments with your healthcare provider is important to monitoring overall health and identifying early warning signs of potential health issues and RA complications.

Ask about the risk of infections
People with RA are at an increased risk of infections. This is partly due to the immune dysfunction caused by RA, and the fact that some medications used to treat RA increase a patient’s risk of infection. This is especially true of medications that work by suppressing the immune system in order to prevent the immune system from attacking healthy tissue. Speak with your healthcare provider about whether your medications carry an increased risk of infection, how to prevent infections and how to spot the symptoms of an infection.

Ask about seeing other doctors or specialists
Your in addition to seeing a rheumatologist, you may be referred to other healthcare specialists to assess the health of other organs that may be affected by RA. This could include a physical therapist to help improve strength and mobility, a cardiologist to assess the health of your heart or a therapist to help you work through the emotional impact of the condition.

Ask about exercise
Exercise can help improve muscle strength, range of motion and heart health. High impact exercise such as running or lifting very heavy weights can put too much stress on the joints. Lower impact exercises such as walking, swimming and cycling are easier on the joints. Ask your doctor about what forms of exercise are safe, and how much exercise is recommended, and how to balance physical activity and rest.

Ask about other steps you can take
Ask your doctor what else you can do to help control RA, including diet, unhealthy foods and habits you should avoid, ways to relieve pain and stiffness, managing stress and changes to make to your home or workplace. Be sure to bring up any additional concerns you have about your symptoms, your treatment and your overall health.

Medically reviewed in April 2020.

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