If you were recently diagnosed with arthritis or one of the other rheumatic diseases, you may be feeling anxious, even a little overwhelmed. This is a natural response to an unexpected turn in the road.
How do you handle your very real concerns? Know the facts, starting with the reality. With proper treatment, you can manage this condition and still live a good and productive life. There are numerous medications and therapies that have been proven effective and expert health professionals who can help.
However, you also have to take control of the situation. That means making sure you get adequate exercise, ample rest and good nutrition. It also means learning about your disease and taking steps to address your own needs. The knowledge you acquire and the positive approach you take to your new lifestyle will make the difference between just coping with rheumatic disease and living well, despite your diagnosis.
Arthritis and other rheumatic diseases are a family of illnesses that can cause inflammation (redness, swelling and pain), changes in the joints and pain in the surrounding structures. They also may make it difficult to do daily activities. In fact, there are more than 100 different rheumatic conditions including, but not limited to, osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis, gout, fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus, ankylosing spondylitis and scleroderma.
While the symptoms may vary, as a rule, these conditions target the musculoskeletal system, including the bones, joints, muscles, and tendons that contribute to function. Some people also can have internal organ involvement or even more than one of these conditions at the same time.
Therefore, it may take time for your primary care physician, rheumatologist, or other health care professional to determine your particular diagnosis and the best treatment approach for you. Your participation in this effort—and your patience - will make a substantial contribution to a successful diagnosis and your comfort levels.
Identify the team of medical professionals who will benefit you most and learn more about what they do. Initially, your rheumatologist (who has special training in the diagnosis and treatment of rheumatic diseases) will probably work closely with your primary care provider. Once you are diagnosed, a number of other rheumatology health professionals are available to help you manage your condition, including:
Rather than giving your rheumatic condition control over your life, get involved. Take an active role in planning your care. Ask questions. Work with your rheumatology provider and medical team to decide the treatments that work best for you. Make a point to learn more about:
For personal reinforcement, find support groups where you can talk, share and interact with others. Check with your doctor or health professional about community volunteer groups in your area that can provide additional input and assistance. Then make a difference on a national level by joining the American College of Rheumatology’s Advocates for Arthritis Program, a network of members and patients who are informed about activities in Congress that affect patient care, the practice of rheumatology and federal funding of rheumatology research. You can help generate support for research and lobbying efforts that enhance the quality of life for patients just like you.
Believe it or not, your attitude can make a difference in how your condition will affect your life. If you have a proactive attitude and believe you can positively influence your symptoms, you will be more likely to experience less pain and discomfort.
Not interested in exercising? Think again. Exercising can help decrease pain, reduce disease symptoms and make a substantial contribution to your overall flexibility, strength, and health. Plus, it can improve your mental outlook!
Try to think about "movement" instead of exercise. For example, dance is a great way to stay active and is a welcome alternative to traditional exercise for some people.
Pick a group of exercises that contribute to improved fitness and strength. There are various activities that can be included in an exercise program, such as walking, water aerobics, bicycling or dancing. Join friends, take along a book on tape or just get going. The trick is getting started and developing a routine. If the exercise path you are taking is strenuous, check with your physician, physical therapist, or occupational therapist first.
Give yourself the time you need to get better. Don't feel guilty about asking your family, friends, and colleagues for the support you need to get your rest, exercise, and medical care. Learn to say no to outside commitments when you need to, so that you can focus on getting well. Many people with chronic illness feel low, discouraged, or even overwhelmed at times. Make sure you get the support you need through your friends, family, church, and/or counselors to cope with the illness.
Above all, don't give up! Yes, this is a chronic condition and, no, it may not go away. But many, many patients with rheumatic diseases lead happy, fulfilling lives by learning, communicating, sharing, and taking a positive approach to coping with change. Why not be one of those individuals? Take control over how you live with rheumatic disease.
Updated December 2020 by Cheryl Crow, MOT, OTR/L, and reviewed by the American College of Rheumatology Committee on Communications and Marketing.
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.
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