8 Ways to Live Well With Rheumatoid Arthritis

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If you have been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), you know how painful, tiring and unpredictable the disease can be. There is no cure yet for RA, but there are many things you can do to live well. Early diagnosis, early treatment, and good management of RA can lead to long periods with no symptoms. Read up on eight ways to live well with RA.

1. Design your treatment plan. Take an active role in your treatment. Learn as much as you can about RA, and work with your doctor to find a treatment plan that works best for you. There are many treatment options. You may need to change your treatment plan at different times through the course of the disease. Make sure you know what side effects to look for, and discuss all the risks and benefits with your doctor. Research shows that people who take an active role in their treatment have less pain, fewer doctor visits, and a better quality of life.

2. Learn about flares and complications. One of the reasons RA is so frustrating is that it is unpredictable. You may be feeling well for a time and then suddenly develop symptoms of pain, swelling and fatigue. These "flares" may mean you need to start or change treatment, so your doctor needs to know about them. Complications of RA can include heart, lung, skin, nerve and eye changes. Ask your doctor about possible complications, what to look for, and when to call the doctor's office.

3. Reduce your stress. Having RA is stressful, and added stress from other sources can make your RA worse. Stress is known to make pain more noticeable and it may also trigger an RA flare. Learn ways to recognize and reduce stress with exercise, meditation, a warm bath, or time with loved ones. Learn to listen to your body, stay positive, and be good to yourself.

4. Stay active. Exercise works well to ease your stress level, and it can also relieve and help you control RA symptoms. Staying active helps the muscles around your joints stay strong for better support. Active exercise also keeps your joints moving so you don't lose range-of-motion. Talk with your doctor to find out what level and type of exercise is best for you.

5. Watch what you eat. There is no special diet for RA, but a balanced diet is good for your general health. Eating well will help you keep off extra weight that could put stress on your joints. Some nutritional supplements in your diet that might help RA include omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish; the mineral selenium, found in whole grains; and vitamin D, found in dairy products and fortified cereals.

6. Don't smoke. Research shows that smoking makes RA harder to treat. People who smoke do not respond as well as nonsmokers to important RA drugs, including methotrexate and anti-TNF (biologic) drugs. If you smoke, ask your doctor to help you quit.

7. Get enough rest. Not getting enough sleep can make RA symptoms worse. You should be getting seven to nine hours every night. Start your day's activities a little later, after morning stiffness has passed, and save your energy for important tasks. Get some exercise every day to help you sleep better at night. If you have trouble sleeping because of pain, ask your doctor for help.

8. Get plenty of support. RA can be a tough disease to live with on a daily basis. Don't be ashamed to ask for help. Friends and loved ones can be powerful sources of help and moral support. Think about what you need help with; be specific and ask your friends or family for dinner once a week or help cleaning the house. Share your thoughts and feelings with friends and loved ones. Consider joining a support group where you can share hope and experience with others who know about living well with RA.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2019 May 4
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