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6 Questions to Ask Your Doctor about Rheumatoid Arthritis

Finding out you have rheumatoid arthritis is stressful, but learning all you can and knowing which questions to ask your doctor

Suspecting you have RA or being diagnosed with it brings up a lot of stressful feelings and emotions, not to mention—a lot of questions. You want to know what RA is and what it means for you. What does a future with RA look like? And what can you do to get better?

Learning everything you can about rheumatoid arthritis is your first step. At your next visit, ask your doctor or a nurse these 6 key questions:

  1. Do I have rheumatoid arthritis? No single test can diagnose RA, so it can be difficult to get a diagnosis at first. Sharecare expert and rheumatologist, Scott Zashin, MD, says RA diagnosis is based on history, a physical exam, and lab and imaging tests. In people with RA, history often includes complaints of prolonged morning stiffness and joint pain, lasting about six weeks. An exam will show swollen joints, lab tests may show inflammation in the body, and joint or bone damage may show up in X-rays or MRIs.
  2. Do I need to see a specialist? If your primary doctor suspects RA, he or she is likely to refer you to a rheumatologist for evaluation and treatment. If you have RA, you should have frequent follow-up visits with your rheumatologist. Other specialists you may see for RA treatment include pain management specialists, occupational and physical therapists, orthopedic surgeons, and psychologists or social workers.
  3. Is there a cure for rheumatoid arthritis? There's no cure for RA, but with early, aggressive treatment, many people with RA—according to some experts, as many as 50%—can expect to go into remission, when symptoms have stopped or slowed. Without continued treatment, though, RA symptoms will come back. So it's critical to work with your rheumatologist and follow your treatment plan even when you feel better. Treatments for RA include medications, physical therapy, and, in some cases, surgery.
  4. What about medication side effects? All medications have risks, and RA treatments are no different. In most cases, your rheumatologist will try to treat you with drugs that have the fewest side effects first, but some patients will need stronger drugs or combinations of drugs. When taking drugs with potentially-serious side effects, be sure that you understand the warning signs, know when to call your doctor, and see your rheumatologist regularly to monitor your condition and overall health.
  5. What should I do if I have a flare-up? If pain flares, reduce your activity and rest your joints. Keep taking your medications and follow your treatment plan. Try hot and cold packs to relax muscles or numb painful joints. Techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or mental imagery can also ease pain. Get emergency medical care if you faint, feel extremely weak, have fever or chills, or have a joint that is suddenly very hot or painful.
  6. What else can I do to help my RA? Gentle exercise and losing weight, if you're overweight, can help relieve RA pain and fatigue. Along with these, a healthy diet and not smoking may lower inflammation in your body and can also lower your risk of heart disease (which is higher in RA patients). Reduce stress on your joints, including using splints and other RA-friendly devices. And consider joining a support group to connect with other RA patients and protect your emotional health.

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