Despite having painful joints, many people are surprised when they’re diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. That’s because the early symptoms of the disabling chronic illness can be easily mistaken for another disease. As the illness progresses, though, it’s common to experience the severe joint pain that’s associated with the autoimmune disorder. Once you’re diagnosed, it will be important to know what to expect. There are likely to be a few changes that can make a big difference when living with rheumatoid arthritis.
1. You May Need A Specialist
Even if you were diagnosed by your usual doctor, it’s likely that they’ll refer you to a rheumatologist. This type of specialist only deals with arthritic conditions and will be knowledgeable about all the available treatments that could work for you.
Before meeting with the specialist, make sure to talk to your primary care physician about how your medical records will be shared so everyone will know what’s happening. This will be especially important for people who have other chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.
2. There’ll Be A Medical Regimen
Once you’ve been diagnosed, your doctor’s focus will be on managing your symptoms and preventing flare-ups. You’ll likely be prescribed painkillers, corticosteroids, biologic treatments, or disease‐modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs).
You should always let your doctor know if you think your medications are losing their effectiveness. All of these medications will have side effects so make sure to discuss them with your doctor.
3. The Symptoms Can Get Worse
Swollen, tender, and stiff joints are a characteristic of rheumatoid arthritis. While this may only affect your fingers and toes in the beginning, it can spread to your wrists, ankles, knees, shoulders, and hips over time.
The disease can also affect your skin, heart, lungs, and eyes, among other areas of the body. If this happens, let your doctor know so they can treat you accordingly. In some cases, physical therapy and surgery may be the only options.
4. You’ll Need To Control Flare-ups
People with rheumatoid arthritis often experience flare-ups that have been triggered by a variety of causes. These causes vary but can include certain foods, chemicals, stressful situations, and even changes in your medication. If you’re having a flare-up, you can expect increased joint pain and stiffness as well as full-body pain, fatigue, and flu-like symptoms. To cope with this, it helps to take things easy and take the medication that your doctor prescribes.
5. It’s Good To Be Physically Active
Studies show that regular exercise can go a long way to easing the pain in your joints. Given that you’ll be dealing with pain and stiffness, it will be important to ensure that you’re doing the right exercises.
Doing that starts with talking to your doctor about your best options. However, many people get the most out of taking short walks, swimming, doing tai chi, and practicing yoga.
6. You’ll Need To Stop Smoking If You’re Doing It
Studies show that smoking can make inflammation in the body worse, which doesn’t bode well for a condition like rheumatoid arthritis. Health experts strongly recommend stepping away from the cigarettes entirely once you’ve been diagnosed. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about the options that are available.
7. A Change In Your Diet May Help
While more studies need to be done, the current research suggests that sticking to a diet of anti-inflammatory foods can help with your symptoms. A diet like that would be low on processed foods and those that are high in sugar or salt. Instead, you’d eat more whole grains, lean proteins, fatty fish, green leafy vegetables, tomatoes, and nuts.
8. Consider Having A Support System
Living your daily life with rheumatoid arthritis can be tricky, so having an established support system will help. People who are close to you may be able to help you while you’re having a flare-up.
An online or in-person support group can give you information about coping with the illness and how to talk to your doctor about your treatment plan. Since many people with rheumatoid arthritis also deal with depression, getting a therapist can help you with that.
Rheumatoid arthritis is typically known as a serious illness because of how badly it can affect your joints if it’s not handled correctly. While living with the condition, make sure to keep communication open with your doctor at all times so they can be aware of any changes in your health and address them quickly.