Most importantly, you can learn more about your disease and its management. Just understanding your disease can help allay some of the anxiety you may be feeling. Learning about your disease and taking a more active role in managing it can give you an added sense of well-being and control.

Finally, there's one more thing you can do: Talk to your doctor about your concerns. Explain that you are interested in taking a role in your own care. Show your interest by bringing up medical issues you've seen in the news or by sharing articles from Arthritis Today or other magazines and newspapers. Ask your doctor for educational materials, schedules of exercise classes, support group information or referrals to a physical therapist or dietitian.

Just as there are doctors who are used to being the key players in their patients' health care, there are many patients who want – and expect – their doctors to assume the sole responsibility for disease management. If you haven't indicated otherwise, your doctor may assume you are one of them. Given the opportunity, most doctors are happy to encourage and improve patient self-help. And studies show that you'll be better off taking that self-help role.

Doyt L. Conn, MD, Rheumatologist