True or false: Do you have rheumatoid arthritis?
If you answered “True,” we have a question: How do you know? It’s not enough to suffer from sore joints, stiffness, swollen knuckles and a lot of pain. That feels miserable. But it may not be rheumatoid arthritis.
It’s tricky to correctly diagnose rheumatoid arthritis. If your primary care provider (PCP) says you have rheumatoid arthritis, ask if it would be helpful to have a referral to a rheumatologist to confirm the diagnosis or oversee treatment.
Rheumatologists are doctors who specialize in diagnosing and treating arthritis. Your primary care provider may have a rheumatologist to suggest. Our Customer Service staff can also help you find one who’s in our network. Customer Service hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday. Call us toll free at 1-855-722-8206, send a text message to 503-488-2886, or email by filling out this form.
Five reasons you may need to see a rheumatologist
- Primary care providers look at the big picture. They know about everything from rashes to sore throats to high blood pressure. They aren’t trained to know everything about any one disease, like a rheumatologist is with the many types of arthritis.
- Rheumatoid arthritis is complicated. No single test lights up and says, “Yes! It’s rheumatoid arthritis!” And it’s easy to mistake other, unrelated conditions for rheumatoid arthritis. A good diagnosis typically involves blood tests, an exam of your joints and organs, and imaging tests like X-rays and ultrasound.
Pain is part of the picture, but pain is definitely not the deciding factor in deciding if you have rheumatoid arthritis. Do you take opioids for your joint pain? That does not mean you have rheumatoid arthritis.
- Rheumatoid arthritis is serious. It’s an autoimmune disease. That means your body’s germ-fighting army is confused. It starts fighting your own healthy tissue, thinking it’s the enemy.
Your body’s normal weapons against germs include inflammation or swelling. Usually, inflammation goes away when the healing is done.
But in rheumatoid arthritis, the inflammation sticks around and makes your joints hurt. Over time, it damages joints. Damaged joints cannot recover, so you do not want to let your rheumatoid arthritis get that far. That’s why:
- It’s important to start the right treatment as soon as possible. If you have rheumatoid arthritis, a special type of medicine can reduce the amount of long-term damage to your joints. These are “disease-modifying” drugs called DMARDs. Rheumatologists stay up-to-date on the latest improvements to treatments and recommendations. The right medicines can greatly relieve your pain and improve your ability to move. Some useful treatments carry the risk of dangerous side effects. You want to be sure you are taking a medicine you need, and that your rheumatologist is paying attention to how it’s affecting you.
- Your rheumatologist will team up with your regular provider. Depending on how bad your rheumatoid arthritis is, your symptoms, and what kind of medicine you’re on, you’ll need to see your rheumatologist every few months, twice a year, or once a year.
After your condition settles down, your primary care provider will keep an eye on you, in between your rheumatology appointments.
Why get treated?
The right treatment, at the right time, can really improve your life. The goals are to:
- Slow or prevent future damage to your joints
- Help you keep moving and functioning
- Lower your pain.
Medicines and doctors can help you reach those goals. And luckily, you can make lifestyle changes that help you reduce pain and stay active. They include:
- Exercising. The Arthritis Foundation offers these ideas for helpful exercises. A physical therapist can help you make an appropriate exercise plan. And here’s an Oregon report about how exercise helps relieve pain without the risks of opioids.
- If you’re overweight, getting to a healthy weight. Excess weight stresses your joints.
- Limiting alcohol. If you drink, keep it to one or two drinks daily at the most. Talk with your doctor about alcohol’s effects on any medicines.
- Quitting smoking. Quitting smoking will reduce your symptoms and may help you reduce your medications. CareOregon can help! Members are eligible for the Quit For Life® Program, two times in each 12-month period. Call toll-free: 866-QUIT-4-LIFE (866-784-8454), or log on to quitnow.net for details or to enroll.