Rheumatoid arthritis (RA), a chronic autoimmune illness that often strikes people (particularly women) in the prime of their lives, causes the immune system to turn against the body and attack the joints — and that can hurt.
Pain from RA often leads patients to seek care from a rheumatologist in the first place. In addition to discomfort, pain can cause emotional distress, impact a person’s ability to work or spend time with family and friends, and cause sleep disruptions, which can make pain even worse. Pain can be caused by the condition when it flares, or co-morbid conditions, such as osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, or even anxiety or depression.
The goal for RA treatment is to prevent joint damage and help people live as symptom-free as possible, which includes reducing pain and any related triggers. That’s why patients need to monitor their pain and tell their rheumatologist if it is steady, escalating, or in a new location since their last visit.
Patients can monitor their RA by:
- Downloading the ArthritisPower mobile app to take regular assessments of pain, which can be sent directly to a healthcare provider.
- Using a diary (in the app or elsewhere) to note activities, weather, and other stressors that trigger pain.
- Talking to their rheumatologist about the assessments and diary, focusing on when and where pain is most severe, and describing how it might be contributing to fatigue, loss of physical function, or other symptoms, such as those related to mental health.
Medication will likely be a part of any patient’s RA treatment plan. There are two general categories of RA medications: drugs that reduce inflammation short-term (e.g., steroids, NSAIDs), and drugs that modify the immune system (e.g., DMARDs) to prevent joint damage and flares over time.
Another reason for patients to track their experience of disease is that some will find their DMARD medication may become less effective over time, which should prompt a conversation about the need to switch medications or try a new management approach.
It is essential that patients advocate for themselves. Pain is subjective and hard to assess as there is no lab test for pain. Speaking up and building a good working relationship with your provider can be a powerful diagnostic tool.
With so many treatment methods available, there is no need to settle for only feeling “fine” instead of feeling great!
For more information on managing RA pain, visit awareness.creakyjoints.org/ra-pain/.