Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that causes they body to attack its own joints, which creates swelling, pain and fatigue. Over time, if patients don’t see a doctor, RA can damage the cartilage between joints and cause them to be immobile.
The pain of RA is both physical and mental – patients often have to change their lifestyle to accommodate the pain and fatigue the disease causes, and this can take an emotional toll. With that being said, there are mistakes that almost every patient with rheumatoid arthritis will make during the treatment for their illness. Here are three of the most common mistakes and why it’s important to avoid them.
1. Don’t stay inactive.
Rheumatoid arthritis is painful. There are going to be a lot of days when you’ll want to stay on the couch and rest, and there will be a lot of days when you need rest, but it’s important to remember not to spend too much time immobile. Too much down time is going to make the stiffness in your joints and your fatigue even worse. Regular exercise is going to be critical for your long-term health. Turn to low-impact activities when you’re feeling bad, such as yoga, walking, or even swimming as long as the water isn’t too cold. Talk to your doctor or physical therapist for exercise recommendations. Remember: Rest when you need it, but exercise is going to be important to maintain your health.
2. Don’t underestimate the value of specialist care.
RA is a serious disease. It’s important to get the care you need by a doctor who specializes in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. That’s not to say that your primary care physician can’t treat your RA – they can and they will be able to prescribe medication that can help you; however, a rheumatologist has specific training with treating RA. They are knowledgeable about current medications and treatments and will be able to give you the most up-to-date plan of care based on industry standards. While you will definitely still see your primary care physician, have him or her recommend a rheumatologist to help you manage your RA. Kelsey-Seybold rheumatologists and primary care physicians work together and both have access to patients’ electronic medical record for a clearer picture of each patient’s health.
3. Don’t ignore your doctor’s adviceOn good days, it will be easy to overlook some of the restrictions and requests your physician has made, but when you’re living with a long-term illness like rheumatoid arthritis, consistency has got to be a main sticking point in any good treatment plan. Doctor requests that are most overlooked include:
- Keeping an eye on your weight – don’t add stress to your already aching joints. Gaining weight will only add unneeded pressure to your ankles, hips and knees. In order to maintain a healthy weight, it’s important to watch your diet and exercise regimen. In fact, in many cases, losing weight will often ease some of the discomfort you’re feeling. If you are trying to enter into an exercise routine, make sure you discuss it with your rheumatologist to discuss safe weight loss activities.
- Skipping your medication – No matter how good you feel on any given day, please don’t skip your medication. Medicine for RA is designed to keep flare ups at bay, so good days are generally the result of regular medication doses. Skipping these doses will almost certainly cause more flare ups. Missing doses can also make it harder to relieve the pain in subsequent flare ups.
- Not getting enough sleep – Studies have shown that people with RA who don’t sleep well at night are at risk for more flare ups, depression and fatigue.
Do you have questions about rheumatoid arthritis? Post your question in the comments section!
Dr. Sheila Albuquerque is a board-certified Rheumatology specialist caring for patients at Kelsey-Seybold’s Main Campus, Spring Medical and Diagnostic Center and Vintage locations. Rheumatoid arthritis, gout and lupus are among her clinical interests.