3 Steps for Taking Control of Your Rheumatoid Arthritis

Remission is an important treatment goal. Here’s what to know.

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Approximately 374,000 Canadians aged 16 and older live with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) every day—and you, a family member or a friend might even be one of them.

RA is an autoimmune disease where the body’s immune system begins attacking the lining of the joints (and even other tissues), causing swelling, pain and stiffness. Especially early on, there may even be less obvious symptoms like tiredness, low-grade fever and weight loss. The disease is progressive and irreversible—but remission can and should be a treatment goal you discuss with your rheumatologist. And it starts with having an open, honest relationship with your rheumatologist.

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Unlike the traditional definition of remission in oncology, remission in RA is when you have a meaningful period of time with little to no symptoms. It’s something worth striving for, because doing “just OK” isn’t good enough. Make the move toward remission—or help a loved one on their journey—with these three steps:

1. Take stock of the ways rheumatoid arthritis affects your life.

If your response to the question “how are you feeling?” is “bad” or “okay” or “so-so,” it’s time to take a fresh assessment of your symptoms and the specific ways they’re affecting your life.

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First, answer a few questions:

  • How often do you have flares? (episodes of sore and swollen joints that occur from time-to-time)
  • What are the symptoms?
  • How severe are they? (e.g. on a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 = not at all and 10 = very severe)
  • What activities do they impact?
  • How does each flare leave you feeling emotionally? (e.g. worried, frustrated, angry, self-conscious)

You’ll probably need to track your RA symptoms in a diary or on a calendar for several weeks so you can get a full picture. Be as specific as you can.

You can also take this survey to get a better sense of the impact RA has on your day-to-day life.

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2. Envision your goals for the future—without the limitations of rheumatoid arthritis.

If you had your RA symptoms under control, how would your life improve? What would you be able to do differently?

Think about small ways your day-to-day activities would change:

  • I would attend and be able to sit through my child’s entire hockey game.
  • I would sleep through the night.
  • I would carry groceries into the house on my own.
  • I would spend a late night out with my friends.

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In collaboration with your rheumatologist, you can even come up with some bigger goals, too.

3. Have an honest conversation with your physician.

It’s time to speak up! Once you’ve gathered information about your symptoms, all the ways they impact your daily life and what goals you have for the future, bring them to the attention of your rheumatologist. That way, they’ll be able to create a treatment plan that’s unique to you and your experience with RA. You’ll also both develop a target to work toward when it comes to remission.

Rheumatologist Dr. Hugues Allard-Chamard likes to tell patients that, “If I am treating your rheumatoid arthritis, we have to set what are the objectives and what I can achieve with my treatment” in order to help set expectations. Adam Kegley, Manager of Global Partnerships at the Global Healthy Living Foundation (GHLF), also states that, “Remission really does look different for everyone.” According to GHLF’s patient community, including members of CreakyJoints Canada, “Some [patients] consider remission as getting to a point where they just want to be able to hold their child in their arms for a period of time without pain or without feeling something is inflamed.”

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You can fill out this discussion guide prior to your appointment so you don’t forget any important points.

Ready to take control of your rheumatoid arthritis? Visit talkoverra.com for more info and discover more experiences like yours with the hashtag #TalkOverRA.

Reader's Digest Canada
Originally Published in Reader's Digest Canada