If you have just been diagnosed with a rheumatic disease, the first question you may have is, “Now what?”
Receiving a diagnosis of a serious, chronic condition like a rheumatic disease - which may include rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, gout, psoriatic arthritis, osteoarthritis, or any of the more than 100 rheumatic diseases - may cause you to feel anxious, depressed, or worried. That’s a natural reaction to learning you have any health condition.
Luckily, this is a promising time for the treatment of rheumatic diseases. Now more than ever before, your rheumatologist has new, powerful medications to treat the symptoms of your disease and control the inflammation that may cause damage to joints and other organs. Biologic drugs are revolutionizing the treatment of arthritis and rheumatic diseases, allowing you to lead a healthier, more active life, and avoid the permanent joint damage or deformity that once was common in these diseases.
Your rheumatologist also has new information about the root causes of many rheumatic diseases, helping the early detection of disease before inflammation and joint damage can even begin. New surgical techniques and artificial joints may also help restore function in joints damaged by rheumatic disease, allowing you to have less pain and better flexibility.
With the powerful resources available today, your rheumatologist and your rheumatology care team can intervene early, as soon as you are diagnosed, to halt inflammation, prevent joint and organ damage, and restore your good quality of life. In most cases, you can start taking these drugs immediately and get back to your job, taking care of your families, enjoying a healthy sex life, traveling, and participating in sports, gardening, or other hobbies. Your diagnosis is just the first step in starting effective treatments so you can be in control of your condition, instead of letting it control you.
Once you meet with your rheumatologist to determine your diagnosis, the important work begins. You, your rheumatologist, and your rheumatology care team will continue to work together moving forward to treat your disease effectively and maintain a good quality of life. You are the most important, active member of this team. Your actions every day of your life will increase your chances of success of having a healthy, fulfilling life for years to come.
Here are the important steps you can take to boost your quality of life and health after your diagnosis:
Follow your treatment plan. Take your medications as your rheumatology provider has prescribed. If you spot potential side effects or the signs of an infection, such as a sudden fever, follow the instructions your rheumatologist has given you. Ask your rheumatologist or nurse if you don’t understand how to take your medications properly, such as injecting yourself or what time of day to take oral medications. Let your rheumatology office staff know if you have lost your insurance coverage and can’t get your prescriptions filled.
Be actively involved in your own care. Keep notes between rheumatology office visits to track any symptoms or problems you may experience. This information will help your rheumatologist see if your treatment plan is working or if your medications or dosages should be changed.
Lead a healthy lifestyle. If you have a rheumatic disease, you will feel better and your medications will work better if your overall lifestyle is healthy. Avoid smoking or using tobacco products. Get regular physical activity that is safe for your joints, such as walking, swimming or taking arthritis exercise classes. Perform daily range-of-motion stretches that help keep joints flexible. Follow a healthy diet and keep your weight under control, as excess pounds add stress to joints like hips or knees. Get enough sleep and find ways to ease stress like exercising, practicing yoga or mediation, or talking about your problems in an arthritis support group or with a mental health professional.
Communicate openly with your rheumatologist and rheumatology care team. If you have questions or concerns about your treatment plan or long-term outlook, speak up at your office visits. Ask questions. Don’t hide problems that you may be having or dismiss any symptoms as minor. Knowing what you are experiencing can help your rheumatology provider see if your treatment plan is working. Also, if you are considering trying complementary medicine for your condition, like acupuncture or herbal treatments, speak to your rheumatology provider first. Some alternative treatments may have interactions with your prescription medications, so inform your rheumatologist before trying anything new.
Educate yourself. There are many free, online resources with information about developments in the treatment of arthritis and rheumatic diseases. You can learn more about your disease and keep up with the latest research. Your rheumatologist and rheumatology care team can also direct you to reliable sources of information about your condition or tell you how to get information on classes, support groups, weight loss, or exercise. Be wary of promotional or commercial websites that only want to sell you a product or expensive therapy. Do not purchase any treatment online without speaking with your rheumatologist first.
Seek support.There are millions of other people who have your condition and share your experiences. These women and men can help you understand what you are experiencing and make you feel more comfortable with your diagnosis. Attend support groups of people with rheumatic disease in your area or login to message boards or social media pages on sites like Facebook and Twitter where you can share your experiences with others. Participate in exercise classes designed for people with rheumatic diseases and meet others who have similar conditions, challenges, and concerns. Listed below are some links to resources that may offer you support, including group classes in your area.
Have a positive attitude. You and your rheumatology provider have many powerful tools to address your rheumatic disease symptoms and restore a good quality of life. So be optimistic about your future. The outlook is positive, and your attitude should be positive as well. Staying upbeat and focusing on the things you and your rheumatology provider can do to manage your condition will help you be successful.
Updated December 2020 by Marcy Bolster, MD, and reviewed by the American College of Rheumatology Communications and Marketing Committee.
This information is provided for general education only. Individuals should consult a qualified health care provider for professional medical advice, diagnosis and treatment of a medical or health condition.
I've Just Been Diagnosed. Now What? in Spanish