Rheumatoid Arthritis (cont.)

Who Treats Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Diagnosing and treating rheumatoid arthritis requires a team effort involving the patient and several types of health care professionals.

The primary doctor to treat arthritis may be an internist, a doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and medical treatment of adults, or a rheumatologist, a doctor who specializes in arthritis and other diseases of the bones, joints, and muscles.

As treatment progresses, other professionals often help. These may include the following:

Orthopaedists: Surgeons who specialize in the treatment of, and surgery for, bone and joint diseases.

Physical therapists: Health professionals who work with patients to improve joint function.

Occupational therapists: Health professionals who teach ways to protect joints, minimize pain, perform activities of daily living, and conserve energy.

Dietitians: Health professionals who teach ways to use a good diet to improve health and maintain a healthy weight.

Nurse educators: Nurses who specialize in helping patients understand their overall condition and implement their treatment plans.

Psychologists: Health professionals who seek to help patients cope with difficulties in the home and workplace that may result from their medical conditions.

What You Can Do: The Importance of Self-Care

Although health care professionals can prescribe or recommend treatments to help patients manage their rheumatoid arthritis, the real key to living well with the disease are the patients themselves. Research shows that people who take part in their own care report less pain and make fewer doctor visits. They also enjoy a better quality of life.

Patient education and arthritis self-management programs, as well as support groups, help people to become better informed and to participate in their own care. An example of a self-management program is the Arthritis Self-Help Course offered by the Arthritis Foundation and developed at a NIAMS-supported Multipurpose Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Diseases Center. Self-management programs teach about rheumatoid arthritis and its treatments, exercise and relaxation approaches, communication between patients and health care providers, and problem solving. Research on these programs has shown that they help people:

  • understand the disease
  • reduce their pain while remaining active
  • cope physically, emotionally, and mentally
  • feel greater control over the disease and build a sense of confidence in the ability to function and lead full, active, and independent lives.


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