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.

In addition to seeing a rheumatologist, you may be referred to other healthcare specialists to assess the health of other organs, such as a physical therapist.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an inflammatory disease where the body’s immune system attacks healthy tissues, causing chronic inflammation in the joints and other areas of the body. Millions of people worldwide are living with RA. The most common symptoms are pain, aching, stiffness, tenderness and swelling in multiple joints on both sides of the body.

There is no cure for RA, but there are numerous treatments available. There are also a number of steps that people with RA 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 talk to your rheumatologist about managing the condition.

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. Complications and comorbidities associated with RA include 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 person'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 providers or specialists

In addition to seeing a rheumatologist, you may be referred to other healthcare providers. 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 living with the condition.

Ask about exercise

Exercise can help improve muscle strength, range of motion and heart health. However, 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 healthcare provider about types of exercise are safe, how much exercise is recommended, and how to balance physical activity and rest.

Ask about other steps you can take

Ask your healthcare provider what else you can do to help control RA, including the foods you eat, unhealthy 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.

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