6 questions you need to ask if you have rheumatoid arthritis

Living a full life with rheumatoid arthritis is possible, but it means taking an active role in your treatment.

29 January 2015
by Wendy Maritz

1. Am I empowering myself to deal with it?

Finding out everything you can about rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an important first step in equipping yourself to manage this disease. Work out a long-term treatment plan with your specialist, define reasonable expectations, and evaluate the treatment options, suggests Mike Boddy, CEO of The Arthritis Foundation of South Africa.

2. Do I get enough physical activity?

Pain, stiffness and fatigue are common symptoms of RA. It’s important to rest during flare-ups, but physical fitness should be maintained as much as is possible. Inactivity leads to loss of joint motion and muscle strength. “This weakness decreases joint stability and further increases fatigue,” explains Boddy.

It’s a vicious cycle, but if pain or limited joint motion is interfering with exercise, see a physical or occupational therapist to tailor-make an exercise plan for you.

3. Am I seeing my doctor regularly?

If your RA is under control, it’s still a good idea to visit your rheumatologist every six months. Don’t be tempted to skip appointments if you’re feeling better and haven’t experienced bad flare-ups.

4. Do I take my medication as prescribed?

There’s always a temptation to stop taking medication when you feel better, but missing dosages could cause inflammation and pain to return and it may be more difficult to get them back under control. Some medication needs to stay in your bloodstream at therapeutic levels to control RA, so if you miss a dose by mistake, take it as soon as you remember (but don’t double dose).

5. Is my diet healthy?

If your appetite is poor, Boddy suggests seeking advice from a dietary therapist to insure you’re getting adequate kilojoules and nutrients. Keep a check on cholesterol levels as RA sufferers have a higher risk of developing coronary artery disease. Fish oils and some plants cells, such as borage seed oil, have been shown to modestly improve arthritis pain and joint swelling.

Boddy warns against taking dietary supplements like cartilage or collagen, as these may be dangerous.

6. Do I struggle with depression?

Living with a chronic disease that is often unpredictable can lead to depression. Join a support group or speak to a counsellor who can help you develop coping skills, as depression may make it more difficult to manage RA effectively. Speak to your doctor about medication if necessary.

IMAGE CREDIT: 123rf.com