Meet Your Rheumatoid Arthritis Health Care Team
A diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis means you’ll likely be partnering long-term with a team of providers who will help you manage your condition and optimize your health. "RA is a complex disease, and its treatments can also be complicated, so it often makes sense to draw on expertise from a number of professionals to guide you through the process and address specific problems,” says Victoria Ruffing, nurse manager of the Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center in Baltimore.
RA’s disease course is different for each individual. Although you may never need to see, for example, an occupational therapist or an orthopaedic surgeon, "consulting with them when they’re needed is a key reason people with RA can now get such excellent outcomes,” Ruffing says.
These are some of the specialists your RA health care team may include:
- A rheumatologist, who treats different types of arthritis and other musculoskeletal diseases and will most likely manage your primary symptoms – inflammation, joint pain and stiffness. Together, you and your rheumatologist head your health care team and decide when you need other providers.
- A primary care physician, who will work closely with your rheumatologist to coordinate care and monitor your overall health.
- A rheumatology nurse, who works in your rheumatologist’s office or a clinic. He or she will be your go-to person for education about RA and its treatments. The nurse also can troubleshoot issues with medications, insurance and access to other providers.
- A physical therapist, who can teach you how to protect joints, maintain mobility and improve fitness.
- An occupational therapist, who can introduce you to assistive techniques and devices that make tasks of daily life easier to do and help you overcome physical limitations that pain and stiffness might cause.
- A social worker, who is trained to help you cope with the broad impact of RA, including its emotional and social challenges.
- A mental health professional, such as a psychologist or psychiatrist who can treat depression and anxiety, which often occur among people with RA.
- An orthopaedic surgeon, who can help correct joint damage through surgery, although early aggressive RA treatment often prevents or delays the type of damage that requires surgery.