Being diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) presents serious physical and emotional challenges, including understanding a complex chronic disease, coping with changes in family and professional life, and navigating a complicated therapeutic environment.
An uncertain future
Patients must also learn to deal with unpredictable pain, fatigue and physical limitations. However, treatment can be very successful today, with many and ever-expanding medical options. Your rheumatologist can work with you to develop the most effective regimen that can best control your symptoms and minimize drug side effects.
Adena Batterman, LCSW, who directs the inflammatory arthritis support and education programs at the New York City Hospital for Specialty Surgery, identified these specific questions that are common in newly diagnosed RA patients:
- How can I continue to educate in the same way?
- Can I continue my career or job? What does that mean for my future?
- Will my family and friends understand?
- How will my illness progress?
- Do medications work and can I tolerate the side effects?
“Learning how to integrate these changes as part of a new normal impacts every area of life. This reinterpretation requires learning to adapt to and live with uncertainty,” Batterman said MedPage today.
A particular risk in patients with RA is depression, which is reported to be 70% more common than in healthy individuals. This can be exacerbated by the chronic pain, unrelenting fatigue, and disrupted sleep that typify patients with RA. Be sure to tell your doctor if you have mood swings or increased anxiety.
And depression may be most common in younger patients and early in the disease course as patients try to adjust to their changing circumstances.
However, different types of counseling such as cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy have been shown to be helpful for many patients. It may be necessary to consult with mental health professionals as medication can also be helpful.
to find help
Support and educational groups can be very helpful in coping with strategies and understanding emotional issues related to chronic illness. Your rheumatologist can help you find these sources. In a large treatment center there are often many professionals available, including clinical social workers and psychologists, but even in smaller centers there may be networks of mental health providers in the community that patients and their caregivers can access.
Read previous episodes of this series:
What is rheumatoid arthritis?
How is rheumatoid arthritis diagnosed?
Initiation of treatment for rheumatoid arthritis
Beyond the first RA treatments
Special concerns regarding COVID
Reproductive health in RA
Medical Journeys is a set of physician-reviewed clinical resources intended for physicians and other healthcare professionals and the patients they serve. Each episode of this 12-part journey through a medical condition includes both a physician’s guide and a downloadable/printable patient resource. Medical Journeys provide physicians and patients with a step-by-step path, providing ongoing resources and support as the care team navigates the course of an illness.