If you’ve been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), your doctor may have talked to you about rheumatoid arthritis symptoms to expect, the treatment options you have, and things you can do to make living with RA a little easier.
Some of the new day-to-day habits you adopt—like taking warm showers in the A.M. to combat morning joint pain, or getting all your important tasks done early before RA fatigue sets in—may be relatively easy to adopt. Others, however, like learning to take time for yourself, asking for help, or feeling OK about saying no, might be a little tougher. Or way tougher.
“It’s especially hard for a mom who has a small child to say, ‘Well I would like to play with you right now, but I need to have my sleep.’ Or, ‘I would like to be able to make this big meal for the family, but I need to take care of myself,’ And I think that’s the part that’s the least understandable,” says Ashira Blazer, MD, a rheumatologist at NYU Langone Medical Center.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease. That means arthritis symptoms result from the immune system attacking your body's own tissues. It can cause pain, swelling, stiffness, and loss of function in your joints; most commonly in the wrist and fingers. The symptoms of RA, however, don’t stop at the joints. Rheumatoid arthritis can also cause bodywide symptoms, such as fatigue, low-grade fevers, and loss of appetite, which can significantly affect your energy levels and ability to live your daily routine.
“That really takes some understanding for the patient, and understanding for the family, to think about how this is affecting the entire body,” says Dr. Blazer. “It takes a whole lifestyle shift that some people may not be prepared for when they get the diagnosis.”
Here some important things to remember to help you cope and live better with RA:
Delegate tasks to family and friends. “It’s OK to offload and delegate, and to let other people take care of you—[it] just improves your life in general,” says Dr. Blazer. Whether it’s letting your significant other to do the dishes, or asking your kids fold the laundry, ask for and accept help as often as possible. “Life has to be a collaborative effort,” says Dr. Blazer. “Many women, especially busy women, like to take everything upon themselves, and families get comfortable with that.”
Don’t be too hard on yourself. Not being able to do certain tasks or push yourself as hard as you used to may be difficult to adjust to. It’s important to recognize that your body is not the same as it was before you had RA, says Dr. Blazer. “This is not you, you’re not just tired or lazy. This is an illness that’s affecting you.”
Self-care is key. “Having RA or any immune condition means that you really have to take care of yourself,” says Dr. Blazer. This means taking your medications as prescribed, exercising, getting enough sleep, and eating nutritiously. “You want to make sure that you’re accommodating for that by giving yourself a little more time. And recognizing the ways in which you need to orchestrate your life,” she says.
Sometimes it helps to see how others with RA have adjusted their lifestyles. Check out these tips for living well with rheumatoid arthritis from Michael Kuluva, a fashion designer with RA.