Regular visits to your doctor may be crucial to managing arthritis, but ultimately, the most important person in controlling your disease – and living well with it – is you.

Your doctor can prescribe medications, but no prescription will help if you fail to fill it or take it as directed. Your doctor can recommend a proven diet, but it will be useless if you don’t follow through. Your doctor can tell you the benefits and potential risks of a new treatment, but you make the final decision whether the former is worth the latter.

To help you be a better manager of your own arthritis, we've created this A-to-Z guide. You’ll find plenty of information that should apply regardless of the form of arthritis you have. So, get started on things you can do today, and make notes of things you’ll want to ask your rheumatologist.

You may just discover that improving your life with arthritis is – shall we say it – as easy as A B C.

A: Aspirin

If you’re thinking of taking low-dose aspirin to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, speak to your doctor first, advises Harold Paulus, MD, professor of medicine in the Division of Rheumatology at UCLA School of Medicine. “Rheumatoid arthritis (RA), lupus – and probably other inflammatory arthritis – are major risk factors for coronary artery disease,” says Dr. Paulus. But aspirin has its own risks – namely a slight increase in risk in gastrointestinal bleeding, which is already increased if you are taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for your arthritis. Because some NSAIDs have been shown to counteract the anti-platelet effects of aspirin if taken before aspirin or throughout the day, a change in NSAIDs or their timing may be needed for aspirin to do its job.

B: Blood

Have you given much thought to what’s in your blood? In addition to the cells that carry oxygen, fight infection and form clots when you cut yourself, your blood carries clues to infections you’ve had, inflammation you’re experiencing and damage your medications may be doing to your liver. With a sample of your blood, your doctor can often confirm a diagnosis, determine if you need a medication change or even predict how severe your arthritis is going to be. That’s why it’s crucial to keep up with all of those blood tests your doctor orders.

C: Cox-2s

The idea behind COX-2 inhibitors is this: Reduce the risk of NSAID-induced stomach ulcers by blocking the COX-2 enzyme responsible for pain-and-fever-causing prostaglandins, while sparing the COX-1 enzyme needed for stomach-protective prostaglandins. Experience proved these drugs’ stomach protection came at a cost. Rofecoxib (Vioxx) and valdecoxib (Bextra) were pulled from the market due to concerns over cardiovascular events. While one COX-2, celecoxib (Celebrex), remains on the market, concerns about heart disease and kidney damage make the drug a less popular choice for people with arthritis than it once was, says Dr. Paulus. If your doctor says you are not a good candidate for celecoxib, but you’re concerned about risk of NSAID-induced ulcers, there are other options for protecting your stomach, including taking your NSAID with a drug to block stomach acid or with a synthetic prostaglandin medication called misoprostol (Cytotec).

D: Diet

Do you find your arthritis flares after a breakfast of bacon and eggs or your joints ache a little more after a cup of cow’s milk? You’re not alone. For years science has failed to show a particular diet is helpful for RA, but new research suggests food allergies worsen pain and stiffness for some people. How can you tell if certain foods are influencing your arthritis? Stop eating them – for a while – and note whether symptoms improve. Then slowly reintroduce foods you eliminated to see when/if symptoms return.

E: Eyes

When you have arthritis, it’s especially important to have regular eye exams. Certain forms are associated with problems that are potentially harmful to your vision. For example, inflammation of the eyes (uveitis) – particularly the iris (iritis) and muscles that focus the eye (iridocyclitis) – is common with juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA).  Conjunctivitis (inflammation of the membranes covering the whites of the eyes and inner parts of the eyelids) and iritis can accompany reactive arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis. Dry eye is a hallmark of Sjögren’s syndrome, a condition characterized by inflammation of the tear-producing glands, which often occurs with autoimmune diseases such as RA and lupus. Certain arthritis medications can cause eye problems too. Corticosteroid use can lead to glaucoma (damage to the optic nerve) and cataracts.  Hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil) can produce pigment changes in the macula, the central part of the retina, which can cause blurred vision.