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Tips for Managing Rheumatoid Arthritis

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Juggling a busy schedule of family, career, household, friends and other commitments can be challenging, especially when living with a chronic, sometimes debilitating disease like rheumatoid arthritis (RA). The symptoms of RA can be uncomfortable, often painful and can interfere with everyday activities. If it's not treated appropriately, it can cause permanent joint damage which can lead to disabilities. RA affects everyone differently, so it is important to make your routine work best for you. There are many ways you can take an active role to help ease symptoms. Below are some tips to help you get started.

1. Find a health care professional with whom you feel comfortable
You'll need to schedule regular appointments and work closely with your rheumatologists to create an overall treatment plan that is right for you, including appropriate medications and lifestyle changes. Bring a list of questions to your visits to make sure you get all the information you need. Remember, there is no "one size fits all" approach and it's important to feel understood and supported.

2. Be your own advocate
Speak up! Advocate for yourself to find the best ways to manage RA. Part of this is staying educated with resources like HealthyWomen's program, Managing RA: The Strong Woman's Approach.

3. It's all about YOU
Even with more than 1.5 million Americans living with RA, the disease affects everyone differently. Customize how you manage the disease to your individual needs and symptoms, and tune in to your body.

4. Set goals
Think about what you want to accomplish for the day, week or month, and talk to your provider about the steps you can take to get there, despite living with RA. Creating goals for managing life with RA can help you find new solutions to everyday challenges and keep you motivated.

5. Stay active
It may seem counterintuitive, but regular exercise can help control and reduce the painful symptoms of RA. It is important to talk to your doctor before starting any exercise program. Staying active helps keep bones, cartilage tissue and muscles around joints healthy and loose. Exercise programs should be personalized to your physical needs and what you enjoy. Finding this balance will help you ease symptoms and stay positive. Customized tips for exercising with RA can be found at www.ReachBeyondRA.com.

6. Listen to your body
Take a break or change your fitness routine if you are having extreme pain, stiffness or other symptoms. Remember to talk with your health care professional before changing your exercise program. If discomfort does not go away after resting for a few days, talk to your health care professional. A good rule of thumb is that exercise which causes pain the next day indicates you are overdoing it. Take care of your joints, but remember that overuse can also be a problem, so tune in to your body.

7. Get plenty of rest
Studies have found that people with RA who do not get enough sleep often have increased pain and more difficulty completing everyday tasks. Between 7 and 9 hours of sleep a night is recommended. If you are having trouble sleeping, consult your health care professional.

8. Eat a balanced diet
Sticking to a healthy diet will help you maintain your ideal weight, which reduces stress on joints. Eating well and drinking plenty of water will also help you keep your energy up throughout the day. While there is no specific diet for those who live with RA, if there are certain foods that seem to make your RA worse, recent studies have found avoiding those foods may help. Talk to your provider if this is something you are experiencing.

9. Don't smoke
There are many major health risks of smoking. Smoking cigarettes has been linked to higher incidence of RA, and recent studies have also found smoking can lessen the effects of RA medications. If you are a smoker, cut back on the number of cigarettes you have a day and consider quitting.

10. Modify activities with small changes
Making small changes to the activities you struggle with can help. For example, if RA makes preparing meals a challenge, try buying pre-cut vegetables or sliding heavy pots across counters instead of lifting them.

11. Find ways to reduce and relieve stress
We all lead busy and demanding lives. Occasionally feeling overwhelmed and stressed is normal. But it can also be hard on your health if you don't find ways to relieve the tension. Make time for relaxing activities like reading a book, taking a warm bath, meditating or talking on the phone with a loved one. And don't forget to take a break from the things that raise your stress level.

12. Plan ahead
Take into account whether you need more time or special assistance, at the airport, for example. If you need certain accommodations when visiting friends, let them know.

13. Stay positive
RA is a painful disease and affects everyone differently. The pain, stiffness and swelling can be discouraging and scary, but remember that RA is part of your life, not all of your life. Focusing on your pain may make it seem worse—keeping a positive attitude will help.

14. Celebrate daily victories
Living with RA can make everyday activities more challenging. Focus on what you can do, not on what you cannot. There may be days when you feel angry or frustrated, but take time to revisit all you have accomplished while living with a chronic illness. Hone in on what it will take to achieve your goals in the future.

15. Share with family and friends and get their support
We all give so much of our time to those we love most in our lives—spouses/partners, children, grandchildren, parents, relatives and loved ones. We also need to reach out and seek their support. Don't be afraid to share what you are thinking—and when you might need help. Talking about your thoughts and feelings will help to ease your mind, and it will help them better appreciate what you are going through.

For more information on living with RA and tips on balancing treatment, exercise and other healthy habits, visit www.HealthyWomen.org/RA. You also can create your own fitness plan at www.ReachBeyondRA.com.