You may also experience stress, frustration, helplessness and a sense of loss of control. While such feelings are common for someone newly diagnosed with a chronic disease, they make coping with RA more difficult and even increase pain. Getting proper medical treatment and developing skills to help you cope with pain and stress in positive, constructive ways will help you fight back.

Early, Aggressive Treatment Might Save Your Joints

While there’s no cure for rheumatoid arthritis, at least not yet, researchers are focused on finding one. In the meantime, remission is the goal. The good news is there have never been more options for aggressively – and often successfully – treating RA.

Today’s research shows that irreparable damage can occur early on, so many doctors focus on slowing or even stopping the disease before that occurs. To do so, they may begin treatment with a class of medications known as disease- modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs), which actually inhibit the processes in your body that cause inflammation.

At the outset or if your RA doesn’t respond well to traditional DMARDs, doctors may opt for one of a new breakthrough category of DMARDs called biologic response modifiers, or biologics. Made from genes, or from a living organism such as a virus or protein (not synthetic chemicals), these drugs interrupt the inflammatory process.

Doctors often combine DMARDs and biologics. And because they may take a while to work, your doctor may also prescribe a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), such as aspirin, to control inflammation; analgesics, such as  acetaminophen (Tylenol), for pain; and possibly a short-term corticosteroid, such as prednisone, to lower inflammation.

Tackling RA is a True Team Effort

Managing rheumatoid arthritis requires a team approach. Your primary doctor should be a rheumatologist, an internist (a specialist in internal medicine) who has additional training to diagnose and treat arthritis or related diseases that affect the joints, muscles, bones, skin and other tissues. Some rheumatologists may also have special training in pediatrics, orthopaedics, physical medicine, sports medicine or other medical fields.

As your treatment progresses, you may see a variety of health care professionals, including orthopaedists who specialize in diseases of the bone; nurses and nurse practitioners who assist with or support your doctor’s care; physiatrists, doctors who direct physical therapy and rehabilitation programs; physical therapists who show you exercises to help keep your muscles strong and prevent joint stiffness; occupational therapists who teach you how to reduce strain on your joints while doing everyday activities; pharmacists who fill your prescriptions; psychologists who help you handle the mental and emotional concerns of chronic disease; social workers who direct you to community resources and find solutions to social and financial problems related to your arthritis; and nutritionists who create a balanced eating plan that will boost your overall health.

In the end, however, you are the most critical member of your disease-management team. You’ll want to learn as much as possible about your RA, its potential course and available treatments. Be proactive in monitoring your symptoms and treatments and in handling the day-to-day challenges your disease brings. Rely on your doctor for treatment, prescriptions and advice, but manage your own health and care.