Article By: Topher Gauk-Roger - READ ORIGINAL ARTICLE
Rheumatoid arthritis can cause problems in different parts of the body such as the eyes, heart, lungs, and skin, and "monitoring for any new symptoms can help your doctor diagnose this earlier."
One of the most stressful things a person can experience is receiving a positive diagnosis from a doctor, no matter what it is. Your mind can race in a million different direction, and perhaps immediately jump ahead to worst-case scenarios. It's easy to become overwhelmed with questions for the doctor, and to have a hard time deciding where to begin.
Doctors are trained to handle these situations and they have a wealth of experience and information on the subject. It's likely they've heard every question imaginable, and if they don't have every answer, they can at least point you in the right direction. In the case of chronic illness, including rheumatoid arthritis, you'll be working together on long-term treatment and management, making it even more vital that you feel comfortable asking questions and advocating for yourself.
To help weed through the chaos and fear that can dwell on your mind after finding out you have rheumatoid arthritis, PEOPLE spoke to rheumatologists about what questions need to be at the top of your list to help manage your diagnosis and take charge of your health.
How severe is my rheumatoid arthritis?
It it key to identify any pains and problems you are experiencing at the time of your diagnosis. As Katherine Wu, M.D. and rheumatologist with the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, tells PEOPLE, rheumatoid arthritis can cause problems in different parts of the body such as the eyes, heart, lungs, and skin, and "monitoring for any new symptoms can help your doctor diagnose this earlier."
The Mayo Clinic explains that rheumatoid arthritis occurs when "your immune system mistakenly attacks your own body's tissues," which affects your joints' lining and causes painful swelling that can potentially lead to bone erosion and joint deformity. The more severe your case, the greater the impact it can have on your body, so your doctor needs to be explicitly aware of any symptoms you're experiencing to help determine how much the arthritis has progressed, and which treatment(s) makes the most sense.
"Patients with rheumatoid arthritis do have an increased risk of certain health issues," says Laura Capelli, M.D., rheumatologist and assistant professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. "There are many things patients and their doctors can do to decrease these risks, including addressing risk factors for heart disease and making sure they are up to date with vaccinations."
What are my options for treatment?
As mentioned, treatment will depend on how far along your arthritis has developed. Your rheumatologist's goal is to minimize as many of your symptoms as possible. The ultimate goal is to achieve remission, but treatment should start, at a minimum, by getting your rheumatoid arthritis to a place that is actually manageable.
As Wu explains, there are dozens of medications approved for R.A., with new ones being studied every year. "With your doctor, you can find the best medication that works for your rheumatoid arthritis," she says. You may have to try a few different medications before ultimately finding the one that works best for you, but that only furthers the importance of being candid with your doctor about your experience so they can find the best solution for you.
Capelli believes in being open with to your doctor about what you are trying to achieve with treatment: "We treat rheumatoid arthritis with effective medications for a variety of reasons, including preventing permanent joint damage, avoiding disability, and improving quality of life and physical function," she says. "Sharing your goals for the future with your doctor will allow you to work together to meet them."
The most challenging part can be waiting for treatment to take effect. It can be a lengthy process that requires an immense amount of patience. As Capelli points out, "most long-term medications for rheumatoid arthritis take some time to become fully effective. It is helpful for patients to know about this as they judge their response to treatment."
What lifestyle changes should I make?
It is important to see rheumatoid arthritis as a major part of your life, and as such, make appropriate modifications to your lifestyle to maximize the efficacy of your treatment. Simply taking medication won't be enough for long-term progress. It's about acknowledging your diagnosis and finding ways to adjust your life to make it a manageable part of your existence, which will require compromises.