5 Common Rheumatoid Arthritis Mistakes

The secret to living a healthy, productive life when you have rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is all in how you manage your health. But for too many RA patients, their management style leaves room for improvement. Check out (and be sure to avoid) these five mistakes many RA patients make.

  1. Seeing the wrong doctor. Your family practice doctor or primary care physician might have initially diagnosed your disease, but a rheumatologist should manage your ongoing care. That's because they're the ones who stay up-to-date on all the latest RA studies, medications, and therapies that make a big difference in how RA progresses and how patients feel.
  2. Taking a short-term approach. RA is a chronic disease, which means you'll live with it for life. It's important to treat your pain, but even more important to slow the disease process down. Many patients neglect to take (or take them sporadically) DMARDs, or Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs, which slow the progression of joint damage, but DMARDs are the most important tool you can use to live comfortably for as long as possible with RA.
  3. Not taking control of your health. Too many patients living with chronic diseases like RA put 100 percent of the responsibility for their health in their doctor's hands: They take their medications, but don't pay attention to their own diet, exercise, and sleep habits, and don't keep their stress level under control. Medical care is essential, but taking care of yourself and supporting your immune system is just as crucial for your body to heal and stay well.

    That means engaging in regular exercise, sleeping at least eight or nine hours per night, and eating the best foods available. It also means engaging in stress reductions activities like meditation, yoga, tai chi, mindfulness exercises, and other techniques proven to benefit RA patients.

  4. Ignoring mental health. Anxiety, depression, and overall crankiness are common with painful diseases like RA. Patients are anxious that their pain and disease will be more than they can manage and worry about how it will affect their work, relationships, and finances. Depression sinks in when people feel poorly for long periods of time, can't rest well, and live with pain. And nobody's at her personal best when aches and pains have the upper hand.

    That's why RA patients must stay on top of pain medications and DMARDS and many also take anti-anxiety and anti-depression medications. Many also consult with social workers, therapists, and support groups, and connect with friends and family members to stay on top of their mental health. That's also why RA patients are encouraged to exercise regularly: Studies show that patients who get regular exercise experience less stress, get better sleep, and experience less anxiety and depression than patients who are sedentary.

  5. Taking a hit-or-miss approach. Most RA patients are great about keeping their doctor appointments and taking their prescriptions when they feel sick, but when their disease is in remission or they're feeling good, they cancel appointments, neglect exercise, and forget to take their medications. That's a prescription for RA disaster.

    Keeping RA under control requires a consistent approach to health care. Don't back off on taking care of yourself when you feel good. Instead, stay on track for a lifetime of wellness by following your doctor's instructions in good times and bad.

Nathan Wei, MD, reviewed this article.