Factors to Consider When Picking An RA Treatmentby Marianna Paulson, B.Ed., B.P.E.-O.R. Patient Advocate
The treatment plan for rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is significantly different from what it was when I was diagnosed 40 years ago. Along with my diagnosis, I received a prescription for Entrophen, and a follow-up appointment. Period. Today, patients have a lot more choices in terms of the healthcare professionals they see and the treatment protocols they follow. Read on for some things to consider to help you make your way through the labyrinth of choices that are available to you.
Eat gin-soaked raisins. Wear copper bracelets. Put magnets in your shoes. You've heard it, and you may have even tried it. There are plenty of old wives’ tales and myths that persist, even after research has proven otherwise. While many of these are harmless to both you and your wallet, others can come at a great cost. Do your research. Look for evidence-based results.
As you go through life with RA, you will assemble a healthcare team that includes some or all of the following people: primary care physicians, rheumatologists, naturopathic doctors, physical therapists, occupational therapists, acupuncturists, massage therapists, dieticians, counselors, lab and X-ray technicians. You want knowledgeable, trustworthy people in your corner. Your healthcare team works together with you to set and attain goals so that you can live well in spite of having RA.
Managing your energy
RA is exhausting, emotionally, mentally, and physically. Your calendar can quickly fill up with a variety of healthcare appointments and tests. When you're in pain, you often have trouble sleeping. Exhaustion makes it difficult to manage your pain and your life. It's an Escher-like loop that can be hard to break. With only so much energy available, look at the big picture when you consider a new treatment protocol. Will the required energy expenditure lead to energy gains further down the road?
Treating a chronic illness is expensive. Downtime from work, or a career change, can affect your earning power, as well as your benefits program. Take time to get a clear sense of your financial situation in order to manage your finances when you have RA. Carefully weigh the costs of your treatment professionals and protocols against your available funds. Learn how to cut your drug costs. Some providers, such as massage therapists and counselors, have a sliding scale to help with costs.
Develop realistic expectations in respect to the length of time it takes to see results from a certain treatment, whether it be medication, or a physical modality. We've become so accustomed to instant banking, instant meals, even relatively instant delivery, that we often expect the same thing for our health. Are you giving up too soon? Have you missed the subtle changes that are occurring? How much time can you afford in order to manage your disease, and also your life?
Flexibility and adaptability
While stiff, RA-ravaged joints may seem to rob you of physical flexibility, you would be wise to foster emotional and mental flexibility. This will allow you to meet the challenges of a disease that is mercurial in nature. Consider how much leeway there is to adapt that treatment to your needs? For example, you may be able to choose between an IV infusion or an injectable drug. Perhaps the frequency/dosage can be modified. Is the practitioner willing to listen to your concerns and work with you?
When you are hurting, the last thing you want to do is exercise. But did you know that the right type of exercise can help you move through your pain? Studies show that regular exercise benefits physical and mental health, and results in a better quality of life. Before beginning an exercise program, speak with your doctor. If you have restrictions or need modifications let your instructor know. Cultivate an attitude of movement. To get you moving, check out swimming, walking, tai chi, yoga, and Nia.
Gluten-free. Paleo. Low-carb. How do you build a healthy relationship with food, when there are so many approaches? How do you know what you should eat when you have RA? A good rule of thumb is to pay attention to how you feel after consuming certain foods. Do you feel bloated? Are you sweaty? Are your joints stiffer? Not everyone responds the same way to all foods. You may wish to discuss your diet with your naturopathic doctor or a dietician.
What matters to you
RA is a label. Fortunately, we have some flexibility in how we “read” that label. I have RA, but it doesn't have me. I live well with RA by adopting a growth mindset. A change in attitudes and perceptions also can help. I seek out support and protocols that are in line with my values. Do they feel right for me? Are my needs being met? Do I need to do some math — add or subtract something from my life?
Do you need to make some changes?