Connect with others who understand.

sign up log in
About myRAteam

Living With Rheumatoid Arthritis: Your Guide

Posted on July 12, 2021
See how 983 members reacted on this article
Medically reviewed by
Ariel D. Teitel, M.D., M.B.A.
Article written by
Joan Grossman

Life with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can present a variety of challenges, but people with RA can experience productive and fulfilling lives by managing their condition in proactive ways. To enjoy your best life with RA, it’s important to recognize ways to maintain a healthy weight, manage stress, communicate effectively about your condition, and take care of family and financial responsibilities.

Members of myRAteam often talk about how the condition has impacted their lives. “There are many tools and a lifestyle to this disease — from diet and exercise to braces, compression clothing, heating pads, lotions, and more," one myRAteam member wrote. "It’s like building a lifestyle with an emergency toolkit.”

RA is a chronic condition that can cause swelling, pain, stiffness in joints, joint damage, fatigue, and symptoms that can affect the heart, lungs, eyes, and other parts of the body. The condition is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks healthy tissue.

Medical treatment options can help you manage RA symptoms, and it is important to maintain your treatment plan as you adjust to life with the condition. You can also consider employing the following strategies to optimize your life as you manage rheumatoid arthritis.

Focus on a Healthy Lifestyle

Research shows that consuming a healthy diet, exercising, managing stress, and avoiding smoking can improve symptoms and slow disease progression of RA.

Diet

Numerous studies in recent years have shown that diet and nutrition are significant factors in both reducing the risk of developing RA and slowing the disease’s progression. A healthy diet can also improve heart health and help you maintain a healthy weight. People with RA have a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, and dietary recommendations for RA feature foods that are low in saturated fats.

Dietary recommendations for people with RA include:

  • Adopting an anti-inflammatory Mediterranean diet rich in fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fatty fish (such as salmon, trout, and sardines), and extra-virgin olive oil
  • Reducing consumption or elimination of red meat, refined sugars, and sugary drinks
  • Lowering consumption of eggs and dairy products
  • Drinking green tea

Some supplements have also shown benefits for people with RA. Recommended supplements include vitamin D and probiotics, which are compounds with live microorganisms that improve gut bacteria. Discuss appropriate doses of supplements with your health care team and get referrals for dietitians and nutritionists. It is important to make sure supplements will not interfere with any medication you may already be taking.

Exercise

Limited mobility, decreased range of motion, and joint pain and discomfort often deter people with RA from exercising. But exercise has numerous benefits and can reduce the risk for heart disease. Exercising can also increase muscle mass and offset the effects of cachexia, a wasting of muscles that can occur as a complication of RA.

Exercise has been shown to improve mental health outcomes and strengthen tendons, which support joints. Exercising also improves range of motion, flexibility, and balance to help you avoid falls. Physical activity and exercise can help you with your pain management.

Weight-bearing or resistance exercises — such as walking, gardening, and using elliptical machines — can improve bone strength and help prevent osteoarthritis, which is more prevalent among people with RA.

Some exercises suitable for many people with RA include:

  • Swimming and water exercises
  • Stationary bicycling
  • Low-impact aerobics

Talk to your rheumatologist about referrals for physical therapists who can provide guidance on exercises that are appropriate for RA.

Stress Management

Stress is associated with an increase in disease activity in RA. Managing mental health conditions like stress, anxiety, and depression may help reduce symptoms like pain and fatigue.

If you need help coping with stress or other mental health symptoms, talk to your doctor about options for stress management, such as:

  • Psychotherapy and support groups
  • Medication
  • Mindfulness training
  • Exercise
  • Complementary therapies, like tai chi or yoga

Smoking

People with RA should avoid smoking, which is linked to more severe RA. Smoking can also interact negatively with drugs that are used for RA treatment and may reduce their effectiveness. Smoking is associated with numerous health conditions, such as heart disease and lung disease — including interstitial lung disease, which is a complication of RA.

How To Talk About RA With Family, Friends, and Co-Workers

People with RA may struggle with how to discuss their condition with others. Talking to family members and friends can be different from talking to co-workers.

Talking To Family and Friends

Members of myRAteam frequently express frustration regarding family and friends who don’t seem to understand what RA is and how it affects the lives of those who have it. “My significant other is tired of me being ill — limited understanding,” one member wrote. Another said, “Sometimes we feel alone because we feel nobody understands what we’re going through.”

Here are some ways to talk about RA with people you are close to:

  • Provide some concise examples of how RA affects you. Try to avoid complicated and lengthy explanations that may be hard for others to comprehend.
  • Let others know when you are having a flare-up or experiencing pain or fatigue.
  • Be open about what kind of help you might need, even with simple daily tasks.
  • Keep your loved ones and friends informed about your treatments and how they might be affecting you. You may want to share a list of medications with those closest to you, in case of an emergency.

Talking To Co-Workers

You may want to be more discreet with co-workers about your condition. You have a right to medical privacy at work. Here are some tips for talking about your condition at the workplace:

  • You may want to share information about your condition with co-workers you trust. They may be able to provide support when needed.
  • Discuss your condition with a human resources administrator if you need any special accommodations or modifications. Businesses with more than 15 employees are required to provide reasonable accommodations for health conditions as part of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
  • Prepare a list of points and questions so you can be sure you cover any concerns.
  • Ask your doctor for an explanation of how accommodations might help you and share that with your HR manager.

Family Life With RA

Family dynamics can change when someone has RA. Household tasks can become difficult at times, and some responsibilites may change. Family members may need to provide medical care and offer more emotional support than they did in the past. Open and clear communication is important so expectations are well understood by the family member with RA and by those family members providing extra support.

Parenting With RA

Parents with RA may struggle when lifting a baby or small child. They can also face challenges when trying to maintain enough energy for the demands of parenthood.

Discuss these issues with your spouse and older children, and make adjustments to how you share parenting with your partner. Single parents with RA may want to reach out to extended family and friends for help with young children or seek outside help.

Working With RA

Research shows that RA affects work productivity. People with the condition miss an average of four hours of work every two weeks. By talking to your supervisor or HR administrator, you may be able to arrange for workplace accommodations such as:

  • An ergonomic workspace
  • A modified or flexible schedule
  • Rest breaks
  • The option to work from home

For more information on accommodations that are supported by the ADA, you can consult this resource on accommodations for people with arthritis. You may also want to talk to your health care providers about a referral for an occupational therapist.

Disability Benefits for RA

If you are unable to continue working due to RA and have been out of work for more than 12 months, you may be eligible for government disability benefits. Advanced RA is among the qualifying conditions to receive disability benefits, according to the Social Security Administration. If you decide to apply for disability benefits, you will need close cooperation from your doctor to verify the limitation you are experiencing with your condition.

Paying for Medication

Medical advances in recent decades have led to better treatments, such as biologic disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) and synthetic DMARDs like methotrexate. But these developments have also led to higher drug costs. Many people with RA face the challenge of paying for drugs when insurance may not provide adequate coverage.

While drug costs have gone up, hospitalization costs for people with RA have gone down, due to the effectiveness of better medications. Nonetheless, paying for medication can be a significant financial burden for some people.

“Some of these RA meds are so expensive,” one myRAteam member wrote. Another said, “RA is an expensive illness.”

Costs for your RA treatment will be much more affordable if you have some form of public or private health insurance, including the following:

If you do not have health insurance, or if you have insurance but need further support, you may find resources within your state to help cover medication costs. Some of the programs available include:

You may want to talk with a Medicare advisor or social worker about programs you may be eligible for that can help offset the costs of RA treatments.

Traveling With RA

Whether traveling to see family, for leisure, or for work, people with RA can take practical measures to make travel easier and manage arthritis pain. Here are some tips that may make travel easier for you:

  • Increase your stamina in the weeks leading up to traveling by walking more.
  • Get comfortable walking shoes and padded socks.
  • Try a crossbody bag with a padded strap for daily outings.
  • Don’t overplan days, and rest when you need to.

Talk to your health care team if you are planning to travel so your trip won’t interrupt your treatment plan. Carefully assess what medications or supplies you will need for traveling, and organize essentials well in advance of your departure date.

Talk With Others Who Understand

On myRAteam, the social network for people with rheumatoid arthritis and their loved ones, more than 157,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with RA.

Do you have questions or tips about living with rheumatoid arthritis? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

References
  1. Rheumatoid Arthritis — National Institute of Athritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases
  2. Lifestyle Modification in Rheumatoid Arthritis: Dietary and Physical Activity Recommendations Based on Evidence — Current Rheumatology Reviews
  3. Rheumatoid Arthritis and Heart Disease — Arthritis Foundation
  4. Dietary Habits and Nutrition in Rheumatoid Arthritis: Can Diet Influence Disease Development and Clinical Manifestations? — Nutrients
  5. Benefits of Exercise in Rheumatoid Arthritis — Journal of Aging Research
  6. What People With Rheumatoid Arthritis Need To Know About Osteoporosis — National Institutes of Health
  7. Chronic Stress and Regulation of Cellular Markers of Inflammation in Rheumatoid Arthritis: Implications for Fatigue — Brain, Behavior, and Immunity
  8. Complementary and Alternative Medicine for Patients With Rheumatoid Arthritis — Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center
  9. Smoking and Rheumatoid Arthritis: What’s the Risk? — Mayo Clinic
  10. How To Explain Arthritis to Family and Friends — CreakyJoints
  11. Working With Arthritis: 6 Changes You Should Make To Keep Your Career on Track — CreakyJoints
  12. Patients and Relatives Coping With Inflammatory Arthritis: Care Teamwork — Health Expectations
  13. Being a Parent or Grandparent With Back Pain, Ankylosing Spondylitis or Rheumatoid Arthritis: A Descriptive Postal Survey — Musculoskeletal Care
  14. Productivity at Work and Quality Of Life in Patients With Rheumatoid Arthritis — BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders
  15. Working When You Have Arthritis — Arthritis Foundation
  16. Economic Burden of Rheumatoid Arthritis: A Systematic Review of Literature in Biologic Era — Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases
  17. Medicare and Medicaid Programs — Arthritis Foundation
  18. Damn It, I’m Going! | Traveling With Arthritis — Arthritis National Research Foundation
Ariel D. Teitel, M.D., M.B.A. is the clinical associate professor of medicine at the NYU Langone Medical Center in New York. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here.
Joan Grossman is a freelance writer, filmmaker, and consultant based in Brooklyn, NY. Learn more about her here.

A myRAteam Member said:

Thank you for the information

posted 10 days ago

hug (2)

Recent articles

To determine how you can reduce your medical expenses, myRAteam sat down with Susan Null of...

How To Reduce Medical Bills: Top Financial Expert Shares 10 Tips

To determine how you can reduce your medical expenses, myRAteam sat down with Susan Null of...
As of June 14, 2021, more than 64 percent of Americans had received at least their first...

Life After COVID-19 Vaccination: What Are myRAteam Members Doing Now That They’re Vaccinated?

As of June 14, 2021, more than 64 percent of Americans had received at least their first...
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic autoimmune disease with common symptoms such as...

Stomach Bloating and RA

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic autoimmune disease with common symptoms such as...
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) affects people of all ages. Like many chronic diseases, RA...

Finding Rheumatoid Arthritis Support Online

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) affects people of all ages. Like many chronic diseases, RA...
“I've been married a little over a year, and I am afraid of getting pregnant, even though I want...

RA and Pregnancy: What To Expect (By Trimester)

“I've been married a little over a year, and I am afraid of getting pregnant, even though I want...
The exact cause of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is not yet known, so it isn’t possible to completely...

Preventing Rheumatoid Arthritis: Can It Be Done?

The exact cause of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is not yet known, so it isn’t possible to completely...
Because the physical impact of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can be all-consuming, you may be...

How Rheumatoid Arthritis Can Affect Your Mental Health

Because the physical impact of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can be all-consuming, you may be...
People with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) often face such symptoms as joint pain and stiffness, and...

Guided Stretching and Exercises for Joint Pain With Dr. Navarro-Millán

People with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) often face such symptoms as joint pain and stiffness, and...
When you’re dealing with joint stiffness, pain, and other symptoms of a chronic condition like...

Meditation Techniques To Ease Arthritis Symptoms: Q&A With Dr. Blazer

When you’re dealing with joint stiffness, pain, and other symptoms of a chronic condition like...
Download the FULL recipe from this video here.Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) causes inflammation, and...

Can Diet Help Ease Your RA Symptoms?

Download the FULL recipe from this video here.Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) causes inflammation, and...
myRAteam My rheumatoid arthritis Team

Thank you for signing up.

close