How to Build Your Rheumatoid Arthritis Care Team
Including certain health professionals on your personal care team can make it easier to manage all aspects of rheumatoid arthritis.
Everyday Health—March 20, 2014
"It takes a village" is a great philosophy for managing rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Although you may start with just your primary care doctor and a rheumatologist, your RA symptoms can change as the disease develops. As that happens, adding key players to your care team can make it easier to manage symptoms and even delay progression of the disease.
Who to Include on Your Rheumatoid Arthritis Care Team
The most important member of a rheumatoid arthritis care team is you. Your job is to identify problems, follow your treatment plan, and make sure that all members of your care team are “in the loop” about your symptoms and treatment. To help you do your job better, it’s a good idea to keep a journal of symptoms and take it with you to all appointments.
In addition to yourself, numerous health professionals are equipped to help with your care as the need arises. They include:
- Primary care doctor. The first member of your rheumatoid arthritis care team is usually your primary doctor, who can help recommend other specialists as needed, check on other aspects of your health, and coordinate your care.
- Rheumatologist. A rheumatologist — a doctor who specializes in the treatment of arthritis and other diseases of the joints — is the pivotal member of your care team. A rheumatologist will assess your symptoms, make rheumatoid arthritis treatment recommendations, and refer you to other health care providers for specific aspects of your condition.
- Physical and occupational therapists. These are specialists in everyday movement who can show you how to stay active and function at your best at work and at home. “Almost everyone with rheumatoid arthritis would benefit from seeing a physical therapist or an occupational therapist if the symptoms are mainly in the hand,” says Theodore Fields, MD., director of the Rheumatology Faculty Practice Plan at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. In particular, a physical therapist can help loosen up your joints as much as possible and get you on the best exercise plan to keep joints moving and muscles strong, he says.
- Dietitian. Healthy eating is an important part of your self-care. Although there’s no one-size-fits-all diet for rheumatoid arthritis, a dietitian can guide you away from foods that trigger inflammation. Also, because being overweight makes living with RA harder, a dietitian can map out a weight-loss plan for you if you need one.
- Mental health professional. “Rheumatoid arthritis is a disease that has a major emotional impact on people, and connecting with a support group, social worker, and trained psychologist or psychiatrist can help,” Dr. Fields says. RA often affects women between the ages of 30 and 60, which is a prime time of life for building a family and career.
- Podiatrist. If rheumatoid arthritis is affecting the joints in your feet or ankles, you may be referred to a podiatrist, a doctor who specializes in foot care. When appropriate, a podiatrist can recommend orthotic inserts in shoes or splints to ease symptoms or relieve pain.
- Orthopedic surgeon. If joint damage becomes severe, you may need to work with an orthopedic surgeon. Surgery, such as joint replacement or removal of the joint lining, may be necessary to restore lost function or improve range of motion.
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