Rheumatoid arthritis causes swelling, inflammation, and discomfort in your joints. Those joints can also become increasingly stiffer with disuse. While this condition can significantly affect your daily life, it doesn't have to disrupt it completely. If you've been recently diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, there are a few things that you should know to help you preserve your quality of life.
Find a Rheumatologist
Although a primary care doctor can diagnose rheumatoid arthritis, you should be working with a rheumatologist to establish a detailed care plan. Rheumatologists specialize in treating arthritis of all kinds, so they have the most recent and focused training possible. In fact, when there are new treatment options out there, rheumatologists often find out about them before general practitioners. Contact an establishment like Arthritis & Rheumatology Associates of South Jersey to get started.
As important as it is to find a rheumatologist, it is equally important to ensure that you're visiting him or her on a regular basis. You may be tempted to cancel a follow-up appointment or a routine checkup with your rheumatologist if you're feeling good, but it's not a good idea to skip those appointments. During those regular visits the doctor may be able to identify progression symptoms that you might not have noticed or will simply record your current condition and do routine lab work. In either case, it is important for monitoring and keeping you feeling your best.
Balance Your Rest and Activity
One of the things your care provider will tell you is that you need to let your joints rest to help keep arthritis flare-ups at bay. While you do need some rest, you should be careful not to get too much. Keep in mind that regular exercise and consistent activity will help you not only stay generally healthy but also help reduce your stiffness and fatigue.
When you're struggling with flare-ups, ease your activity levels but don't eliminate them. Focus on gentle activities like yoga and similar flexibility exercises. Consider a heated pool for some activity, but be careful not to push yourself.
On days when you're feeling better, you can incorporate strength training, resistance bands, and even cardio to maintain a healthy cardiovascular system. Walking, as simple as it sounds, is often a great option because it is easy on your joints. Your rheumatologist will likely connect you with a fitness specialist who can help you determine what's safest and most effective for your body.
Follow Your Medication Plan
In some cases, your rheumatologist might prescribe multiple medications. It is important that you understand what each one is for and take them as prescribed. You might have one for pain regulation while the other minimizes the damage to your joints. Don't just skip one if you're feeling good, because then you lose those effects that are likely the reason you're doing better.
In addition, you may need to maintain certain levels of the medication in your system to not only keep the pain at bay but to keep the condition from progressing. Skipping doses may leave you struggling with pain and potentially a worsening condition.
Be Aware of the Depression Risks
As with any chronic or autoimmune disease, rheumatoid arthritis can leave you feeling sad, challenged, and overwhelmed. Recognize those symptoms for what they are and be aware that they can easily transition into depression. The longer these feelings persist, the more problematic they can become. Talk with your doctor about your emotional struggles as soon as you recognize them, because early intervention is key to restoring your healthy, balanced outlook.
Now that you understand some of the key factors to managing your rheumatoid arthritis, you'll be better prepared for dealing with your new diagnosis. Find a strong and supportive care team to help you develop the treatment plan that works well for you.