Talking to Your Doctor About Rheumatoid Arthritis

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Living with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can mean talking with a lot of medical professionals. On top of visits with your primary care provider and rheumatologist (a doctor specializing in arthritis), you might see occupational therapists, physiotherapists, or orthopedic surgeons—all of whom have different roles to play in managing your RA and helping you cope. These visits can sometimes feel repetitive or frustrating, as you’re asked to rehash your symptoms over and over again. 

Don’t give up. There are things you can do to make these visits go more smoothly and help ensure you and your doctor are on the same page when it comes to your symptoms and treatment plan.

Maximize the time you spend with your medical team by preparing some questions and information in advance, engaging as much as you can while you’re with them, and following up afterward. Here are 10 things you should do before, during, and after talking with your doctor about RA.

Before Your Appointment 

Doing a little prep work beforehand can help you make the most of your appointment. Here are a few things you should do in the days and weeks prior to your visit.

Ask a Friend or Relative to Come With You

Having someone with you during your appointment can be really beneficial. Not only can they give you moral or physical support if you need it, but they can also offer questions you might not have thought to ask or catch information you may have missed. 

Snap Photos of Any Medications and Supplements You’re Taking 

Your doctor will likely want to talk to you about your treatment options, including what medications might help you better manage your symptoms. If so, they’ll need to know the kinds of things you’re currently taking to avoid harmful interactions. This includes any prescription medications you’re taking for related or unrelated conditions (ex. birth control), as well as over-the-counter drugs or nutritional supplements. 

An easy way to prep that information for your appointment is by taking pictures of everything you take on a regular basis and saving the images all in one place (either on your phone, computer, or printed out and placed in a folder or envelope). Be sure to snap a picture of the front of the bottle or box, as well as the back where both active and inactive ingredients are listed.  

Do a Little Research 

If you haven’t already, read up about the basics of RA, how it progresses, and how it’s treated. Brushing up on some of the more common terms can limit the amount of time your doctor spends on explaining the condition in general, so the conversation can stay focused on your specific experiences and treatment plan.

It can be useful to do a little reading into emerging treatments for RA, especially if you feel like your current treatment options just aren’t cutting it.

Write Down (or Record) the Questions You’d Like to Ask 

Doctor’s appointments can sometimes move so quickly, it can be hard to remember everything you want to talk to your doctor about. Having a list of questions ready can help you get the answers you need while the doctor is right in front of you. 

When prepping your questions, think about what you’d like to know about your diagnosis, symptoms, treatment options, and ways to cope. For example, you might want to ask about resources available to assist paying for medications, or whether there are support groups or clinical trials for which you might be a good candidate. 

If you’re finding it difficult physically to write things down, most phones allow you to record voice memos. Record the questions individually, and then play them one by one for your doctor during the appointment.

Rheumatoid Arthritis Doctor Discussion Guide

Get our printable guide for your next doctor's appointment to help you ask the right questions.

Doctor Discussion Guide Old Woman

Prepare Answers to Likely Questions 

You won’t be the only one with questions. Your doctor will likely have a lot of questions of their own, covering everything from your symptoms to your medications. Thinking through what your doctor might want to know ahead of time and having answers ready can keep you from feeling caught off guard or forgetting important information. 

Some questions your doctor might want to ask include: 

  • What symptoms are you experiencing? Where do you feel them, and how long do they last? Have they changed at all since the last time they saw you?
  • Does anything make your pain or fatigue feel better or worse? 
  • When was the last time you felt totally well?  
  • Have you noticed any patterns with flare-ups? For example, do you notice they usually happen right after a stressful week at work or after getting sick? 
  • What is bothering you the most right now? Are there any daily activities that have gotten more difficult? 
  • What are you currently taking to manage your symptoms? Is it working? Is it causing any unwanted side effects? 

Keep these questions—or any others you think your doctor might ask you—in the back of your mind in the days and weeks leading up to your clinic visit. As you think of answers, record them so they’re fresh in your mind if your doctor asks about them. 

During Your Appointment 

When you’re in the clinic, take advantage of the time you have with your doctor by sharing as much information as you can, writing down new information you might need, and being curious.  

Be Honest and Thorough  

When talking to your doctor about RA, don’t hold back. Share details about what you’re feeling (physically and mentally), how often, and where, as well as how these symptoms are impacting your ability to live your life. Be honest about other aspects of your health, too, such as how much exercise you’re really getting or the kinds of foods you usually eat. 

You never know what will jump out to your doctor. So don’t be afraid to provide as much information as you can about your routine and most prominent symptoms. 

Take Notes 

You might end up discussing a wide range of topics during your visit, including things you didn’t anticipate. Writing down some quick notes during the appointment can jog your memory about what you talked about when you get home. This can be especially important when discussing new medications or therapy recommendations. 

If you brought a friend or relative, ask them to write things down so you can focus on the conversation in the moment but still be able to look back at key details later.

Ask Follow-Up Questions

The time you have with your doctor is limited. You might not know when you’ll see them again, so be curious and speak up if anything is unclear. For example, if your doctor says something you don’t fully understand, ask them to explain it further or in a different way. If they bring something up in passing that piques your interest, ask for more information or recommendations for where you can learn more. 

After Your Appointment 

When you get home, follow through on what you discussed with your doctor to make sure you take full advantage of what you learned at the appointment. 

Schedule Follow-Up or Referral Appointments

If you and your doctor talked about meeting again or seeing a different health care provider—such as a physiotherapist, psychiatrist, or surgeon—get to work scheduling those appointments as soon as you’re able.

This is especially true if it’s not clear which providers will be covered under your insurance plan or (if you don’t have health insurance) where you can go to get help if you can’t pay out of pocket. Navigating that process can take time. Put it off for too long, and it can lead to a delay in treatment or surprise medical bills. 

This can be intimidating, especially if you’re in the midst of a flare-up. Make it more manageable by taking things one step at a time. For example, the first step could be to search online (or in your health insurance portal) for providers or local clinics that provide care to those with limited financial resources. Once you have an idea of where you could go, start calling to see whether those sites accept new patients and what they might need (for example, a referral form) in order to schedule an appointment—and so on. 

If you have a friend or relative you trust to help you, ask them to pitch in with internet searches, phone calls, scheduling appointments, filling out paperwork, or arranging rides to/from appointments.

Keep Track of Any Changes 

You and your doctor might want to shake up your treatment plan by doing things like swapping medications or tacking on occupational therapy sessions. If you do, take note of any differences you see as a result of the changes. 

For example, if you decide to start a new medication, pay attention to how the drug affects you. Does it seem to help your symptoms? Are there side effects? If something doesn’t feel right or you’re concerned about the way your body is responding to the medication, call your doctor’s office right away.  

Likewise, if you discuss starting physical or occupational therapy, jot down how you feel after the sessions and whether you see a difference in your mobility or ability to do tasks over time. The next time you see your doctor, bring the log with you so you can talk about it and use it to assess whether you want to stay the course with the sessions or change direction again.

A Word From Verywell 

Doctors and allied health professionals are your partners in helping you manage and cope with RA. You’re a team, and you should feel good about who’s on it. If you consistently leave an appointment feeling frustrated, resigned, or dismissed, it might be time to look into whether there are other doctors in the area who might be a better fit. 

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