If you're reading this, you've probably just been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. You're also probably reeling, more than a little relieved to finally have an answer and so scared you want to curl into a ball under the covers. MyRACentral is here to help you through the adjustment, answer your questions and give you support. This post answers some common questions for people who have a new diagnosis and will get you started on getting a handle on life with RA. To learn more about our site, check out the Welcome tour of who we are and what we do.
Knowledge Is Power
Feeling lost and not in control is normal, but remember that you have RA, it doesn't have you. One of the best ways of starting to feel more in control is to know more about your disease, so check out our area about the basics of RA. Finding a good rheumatologist is essential and it's a good idea to come prepared to your appointments. Your doctor is an important member of your team, but it's your body and your life and that means you are the team leader - reading about how to be a good advocate for yourself can help make you more comfortable with being in charge. You also need to know about more than just your disease itself and The First Year with Rheumatoid Arthritis is an excellent book that can help you get back on track.
Medication Is Your Friend
After a diagnosis of chronic illness, we instinctively want to get better. That means eating healthy, getting exercise and not putting any chemicals in our bodies, so no drugs, right? Not so when you have RA - at least about the drugs. It's essential to get the disease suppressed as soon as possible to protect your joints from the kind of damage that can affect your mobility in the future. RA used to come with the prognosis of inevitable deformity and disability, but that has changed. About 10 years ago, Biologic medications came on the market and they have drastically changed the prognosis. It is now possible for most people with RA to lead a pretty normal life and to significantly delay or even prevent damaged joints.
There are a number of medications used to treat RA, both to suppress the disease and to control symptoms of inflammation and pain. People react differently to medication - what works well for some might not work for you and vice versa, so it can take a while to find the right drug. When considering the pros and cons of a medication, you have to think about what it's worth to you to protect your body and your life from the damage that can be caused by RA. Researching the meds suggested by your rheumatologist means reading about side effects and that can be enough to turn your hair white. Keep in mind that drug companies have to list all possible side effects, but that most people experience fairly minor ones that can be managed with some easy tips.
At this time, Western allopathic medication are the best choice for controlling your disease, but many people with RA also use alternative treatments, such as acupuncture, massage, naturopathic medicine and vitamins and supplements.
Being diagnosed with RA changes your life and it's normal to experience feelings of depression. You have to grieve the loss of your healthy self before you can get to a place of acceptance and healthy coping skills. Consider counseling, especially Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. CBT teaches you to think differently - about your disease, choices, life and it can be a tremendous help in adjusting to your diagnosis and dealing with RA throughout your life.
A chronic illness can put a strain on your relationship, how you and your partner work together and your sex life. Couples therapy can help you explore your feelings in a safe environment, guided by a therapist and it can make your relationship stronger.
You will no doubt run into weird reactions from family, friends and colleagues. It's an unfortunate fact that while you're in the middle of dealing with your own feelings about your diagnosis, you have to help those around you understand RA. It can be frustrating, but in the long term it will make life easier for you. If you're single, getting used to telling others about your disease without trepidation can also be helpful when you're dating.
Connecting with others who live with RA can be an essential part of coping well. Although some local support groups do exist, many have to find their support through online communities such as MyRACentral. Having a place where you feel known, where others share your experience and can offer advice from a "Been There" perspective helps you feel less alone.
Eating a balanced, healthy diet gives you the nutrients you need and helps to maintain a weight that doesn't put extra stress on your joints. Some find their symptoms may also be helped by eating an anti-inflammatory diet or a gluten-free, vegan diet. Using supplements such as multivitamins, cod liver oil and vitamin D can also be important tools in managing RA.
It's important to exercise to keep your joints as mobile as possible, but how you exercise depends on the severity of your symptoms. Exercising in water or swimming is a terrific way of moving your body - the buoyancy of the water puts less stress on your joints. Tai chi and yoga are gentler forms of exercise that are also known as meditation in motion, which can help with stress relief, as well. Make sure you talk to your instructor about your RA so you can modify poses that may not be good for your joints. You can also ask your doctor for a referral to a physical therapist who can help you put together an exercise program that will keep you in shape while protecting your joints.
Getting through Your Day
RA can add some extra challenges to your daily life. Managing your resources of energy can play a huge role in how well you're doing. Changing part of your wardrobe can also make it easier on you and believe it or not, it is possible to find comfortable shoes that also look good!
To help you with the tasks in your daily life, you may need some doodads or adaptive equipment, such as thicker pens, jar openers, adaptations to how you drive, etc. Working slightly differently at your job can also make it easier on your body and thereby make it easier for you to do the job. Your employer is legally obligated to accommodate you and many of these accommodations - i.e., different ways of doing the job - are fairly easy to do. They can include adjustments to your desk or workstation, flexible hours or working from home, splitting your breaks into smaller, more frequent ones, etc.
Are you feeling overwhelmed yet? This post has a lot of information and links to even more, so take your time and use the linked resources gradually as you need them. And hang in there - it gets easier. Remember that you have adapted to other big changes in your life before, so you have the skills to adapt to RA, too. You're not alone in this - we're here to support you every step of the way.