What You Should Know About Rheumatoid Arthritis

This expert plan can help take you from “Now what?” to “I’m on top of it!”

Lori Murray
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Get an education—for your family members. “Many times a patient’s family members don’t realize how sick their family member is because the joints are not always swollen,” says Dr. Feldman. “They think, Mom is ‘tired’ or ‘lazy,’ or, She always feels bad. There’s more than the eye can see with this disease.” A good way to educate? Bring family members to your next rheum appointment (alert your doc ahead of time) so they can hear firsthand what having RA entails.

Don’t ignore the nonphysical aspects. “RA can take its toll mentally, especially since the chronic pain and fatigue are so emotionally draining,” says Dr. Feldman. Let your doc know if you’re feeling depressed or lack energy to do things that you used to enjoy. These feelings are common when dealing with any chronic illness, and there’s no need to suffer. Many people have found relief with antidepressants, psychotherapy and RA support groups.

You can fight RA fatigue. Dr. Feldman notes that exhaustion is one of the most difficult RA symptoms to treat, but don’t give up hope. In addition to the usual recommendations—get at least eight hours of sleep and eat a healthy diet—one especially great fatigue-buster is exercise. Dr. Feldman’s pick? “Muscle strengthening with light weights or resistance bands can increase your metabolism and energy by increasing muscle mass. The key is not to do too much or too little.” In fact, any movement—even just walking around the block—is helpful. Ask your doc what exercises are appropriate, and remember that RA isn’t the only energy stealer: Stress, anemia, certain meds and depression are common culprits as well.

If you smoke...Quit! “Not only does smoking make RA harder to treat—in susceptible individuals it may even trigger onset of the disease,” says Dr. Feldman. Ask your doctor about smoking-cessation programs, and don’t stop trying. The more you try, the more you increase your chances of kicking tobacco for good!

April 2013