Treating Rheumatoid Arthritis Effectively

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Rheumatoid Arthritis: 5 Signs You Need to See Your Doctor

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Middle aged Caucasian woman with arm pain at doctor

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a serious inflammatory condition that occurs when your body’s own immune system mistakenly attacks the healthy, normal cells that make up your joints and other tissues. Unlike other forms of arthritis, RA also affects the lining of the joints, often leading to swelling, pain, and even physical deformity in some people.

Complications of RA, like joint deformity, are more likely to occur if you don’t see your rheumatoid arthritis specialist–your rheumatologist–regularly. However, there are some circumstances which, if they occur, mean you should see your doctor sooner. Knowing when it’s time to see your doctor is the best way to get quicker treatment for your symptoms while helping to prevent any permanent joint damage.

1. Your RA symptoms are persistent.

It’s not uncommon for people who live with RA to experience flare-ups and periods of remission. In most cases, symptoms of the condition come and go, and they may vary in how bad they are. But if you have symptoms that won’t go away, even with treatment, it’s time to see your doctor.

RA doesn’t just affect your joints—the condition may also cause damage to important organs and tissues like the heart, lungs, nerves, blood vessels, kidneys, and bone marrow. Symptoms that stick around for weeks or months can be a sign of more permanent damage occurring inside your body. Your doctor should know about any symptoms you have that aren’t getting better.

2. Home treatments aren’t working.

For many, doctors suggest a mix of medications and home therapies to best manage RA symptoms. Rheumatoid arthritis treatment may involve complementary or alternative therapies intended to improve joint mobility and function, such as massage, yoga, or Tai chi. Other home treatments, such as applying ice or heat packs, stretching, and using over-the-counter pain relievers may also be recommended.

If home treatments don’t work, taking a trip to your doctor’s office is a good idea. You don’t have to live in pain, and your doctor can adjust your rheumatoid arthritis treatment to help you get a better handle on unpleasant symptoms.

3. Rest doesn’t improve your symptoms.

If you live with RA, rest can be tremendously beneficial for reducing pain, swelling, and other symptoms. Rest can also help reduce fatigue and inflammation within the affected joint when you’re having a flare-up. If taking breaks throughout your day doesn’t help to manage your symptoms, you should let your doctor know.

4. You develop other medical conditions.

In many cases, doctors prescribe medications for RA that impact your body’s immune system. These drugs work to tamper the body’s immune system response, but they can also leave you open to infection and other problems. Also, many prescription medications for other conditions interfere with drugs for RA.

To avoid potential complications and to stay as healthy as possible, you should see your rheumatologist if you develop any other medical conditions along with RA. Your doctor can help guide you to effective treatments that won’t cause further harm.

5. You experience an RA flare-up in a joint.

It’s also common to experience a flare-up in a single joint. You may experience symptoms like skin that’s very hot to the touch, or excessive swelling or inflammation of one joint. This may be a sign of infection, so it’s important to let your doctor know immediately if you experience symptoms like these.

Finding a Doctor for Rheumatoid Arthritis

When you first begin treatment for RA, it may be beneficial to visit your primary care physician (PCP). In most cases, PCPs refer people living with RA to rheumatologists. Rheumatologists receive extra education and training to help them best diagnose and treat rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory conditions.

If you live with RA, knowing when to see your doctor can help you keep your joints mobile while preventing permanent joint damage. Your rheumatologist will likely develop a set treatment schedule with you, but certain circumstances may mean you need to be seen sooner. Let your doctor know if you have troubling symptoms so you can get relief from RA.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Mar 6
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