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Harvard Commentaries
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Living With Rheumatoid Arthritis


September 08, 2014

Rheumatoid Arthritis
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Keep On Track
Living With Rheumatoid Arthritis
Living With Rheumatoid Arthritis
htmLivingRA
There are several important ways that you can minimize the effects of your disease.
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2011-01-03

Reviewed by the Faculty of Harvard Medical School

Living With Rheumatoid Arthritis

More than one visit to your health-care provider may be necessary to establish (or rule out) a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis. Consultation with more than one health-care provider also may be necessary. Additional visits will allow your health-care provider to identify the best treatment for you and to monitor your response to treatment. As the diagnosis is being considered and treatment begins, there are several important ways that you can minimize the effects of your disease.

Educate yourself. People with rheumatoid arthritis benefit from understanding the disease and its effect on their lives. For example, recognizing in advance that rheumatoid arthritis is often cyclic, as symptoms tend to wax and wane over time, may help you cope with fluctuating symptoms. Knowing more about your disease and various ways of adapting to the illness can help you deal better with how it affects you. For example, structuring your workday to allow a nap in the afternoon may make an enormous difference on the job, or learning how to grasp or grip a bottle jar in a different way can make things easier in the kitchen. Your health-care provider can direct you to appropriate educational resources at your local hospital, within your community and at reputable Internet sites.

Improve your attitude. As much as possible, try to stay focused on what you can do rather than on what you cannot. This will help you to keep moving and maintain function. Researchers who study various coping strategies find that people who take an active role and feel that they have some control over how they react to their disease manage better than those who feel helpless.

Adjust, but don't give in. Find ways to adjust the way you do things in order to maintain good function. Seek the advice of professionals who are skilled in the care of people with rheumatoid arthritis and consult with other people who have the disease. For example, people with rheumatoid arthritis that affects the hands and thumb may have difficulty pinching their thumb and forefinger together. For them, cooking and writing may become difficult. But some patients find that if they use pens or utensils with larger handles or if they wear splints, they can do these things nearly as well as before.

Find the right balance. This is crucial. Figure out the right balance of rest and exercise. To do this, it is essential that you learn to listen to your body. When your symptoms flare up and your joints are more sore, warm and swollen than usual, you really have to make time to rest. This may mean that you don't make dinner, that you postpone a meeting with a friend or colleague or that you find someone to help with your children until you feel better. During these times, it is important to continue your exercises in order to keep your joints mobile, but be careful not to tire yourself or push yourself to the point of pain. Then, when your joints feel better, you can increase your activity level. Moderate weight-bearing exercises, such as walking and lifting weights, can strengthen weakened muscles and are usually well tolerated. But if exercise produces more pain or joint swelling, cut back a bit.

Get a fresh perspective. It is natural to wonder if you are getting optimal treatment when you have been diagnosed with a chronic, incurable disease. A good way to deal with this uncertainty is to get a second opinion, particularly if things are not going well. A specialist who is not affiliated with your health-care provider may confirm that your current treatment is best or may suggest a new and more effective approach. The benefit is yours either way, as you'll receive reassurance or better treatment.

Perpetually asking for new opinions is not helpful: There is such a thing as too many opinions. You need not change health-care providers in order to get a second opinion if you already have a good relationship with your current health-care provider. In fact, a conscientious health-care provider who is working hard to improve your health may welcome a fresh perspective as much as you do.

Trust yourself and your health-care providers. Even though rheumatoid arthritis is incurable, disability is not inevitable. If you have joint pain, get an evaluation to establish a diagnosis. Don't assume it's "just part of getting older." Work with your health-care providers to find an effective treatment by monitoring your symptoms between visits. If you have rheumatoid arthritis, recognize that a number of effective treatments are available. If one doesn't work, another may. In addition, many new treatments are in the pipeline. There are plenty of reasons to remain optimistic about more effective treatments in the future.

 

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