How to Manage a New Diagnosis of Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Written by: Ankita Kathad – MA
(Clinical Psychology)

Last updated date : April 18, 2022

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune condition. This means that body’s own immune response starts to attack the healthy cells in our body. In this, a person has pain and stiffness in the joints. Getting this diagnosis can be difficult. This article aims to explain how to manage a new diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis. We further understand how to cope with a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis.

In this condition, the immune action of the body leads to inflammation around the joints. A joint is a hinge-like structure that connects two bones. Swelling around this area restricts body movements. Following are the symptoms of this condition:

  • Pain in the joints
  • Swelling around joints
  • Stiffness and redness in joints
  • Lack of energy to work
  • Fever due to stiffness
  • Dry eyes and mouth
  • Loss of appetite
  • Muscle tension

A person may begin to feel pain in their hands and feet first. Gradually they will feel pain in most of their joints. Simple actions such as climbing are difficult to perform. To learn how to manage a new diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis, let us look at some of the causes.

Chapter 1:
Causes of Rheumatoid Arthritis

The normal function of our immune system is to protect our body from infections and diseases. However, in this condition, the immune system gets confused and starts attacking the healthy tissues of our body. What exactly leads to this kind of immune response is not known. However, there are certain risk factors. Let us look at them:

  • Genetic factors: If someone in your family has this condition, then you have a higher chance of getting a diagnosis.
  • Age: Although this condition can occur at all ages, People in middle age have a higher risk.
  • Gender: Females are more likely to have this condition compared to males.
  • Lifestyle factors: Smoking is a risk factor. Additionally, people who are overweight are more likely to develop this arthritis.
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Chapter 2:
How Does Rheumatoid Arthritis Affect You?

If you are diagnosed with this condition, it affects you physically and mentally. You will find people being sad. This is because they can no longer play their favourite sport. They cant perform daily chores. They can no longer enjoy social events. Further, it leads to several other painful conditions. Let us look at them:

  • Deformed fingers and toes: Due to inflammation of the joints, the fingers and toes may look crooked.
  • Osteoporosis: The medicines used for treatment can make the bones weak. Apart from that, this condition itself can make the bones weak. This happens because of restricted actions in joints.
  • Infections: The medicines used in this condition can weaken our immune response to other infections such as colds, pneumonia and fever.
  • Heart and lung problems: This condition can lead to blocked and hard arteries. This is because the sac that surrounds the heart suffers from inflammation. Lung disease is also common. Patients are at a greater risk of lung tissue inflammation.
  • Mental health: People become sad as they cant play their favourite sport. It can also be painful to not enjoy the outdoors. Similarly, people with this condition go through depression due to constant joint pain. They can also become scared. This is because the intensity of the pain can vary from time to time. It can be very bad sometimes and mild at times.
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Chapter 3:
How to Manage a New Diagnosis of Rheumatoid Arthritis

A diagnosis is made using blood tests or x-rays. This condition can limit daily life. Therefore it is important to learn how to manage it. We can combine medicines and exercise to manage this condition.

  • Medical treatment: Science has it easier to manage the symptoms than before. There are many options available. There are pain killers. Anti-inflammatory medicines are also helpful. These include steroids. These medicines are taken only after a doctor’s advice.
  • Cream and gel: There are non-steroidal treatments options too! They include creams and gels. These cause fewer side effects. They can be applied to reduce pain in the joints.
  • Mild exercise: This can help to manage the pain. At times, the symptoms get worse. They are called flare-ups. This may happen when the joints experience stress. Being physically active can keep the joints moving. It prevents stiffness of joints. Initially, it can be difficult to move around. However, gentle exercise can keep you fit. It is important to note that the exercise should not put a strain on the joints. Cycling or brisk walking is good.
  • Physiotherapy: This helps people to improve flexibility. It can also improve strength. A physiotherapist can advise exercises that are less painful.
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Chapter 4:
How to Cope with a New Diagnosis of Rheumatoid Arthritis

This condition is mentally tiring. Some people will not be able to perform their favourite activity such as hiking. For some, it is a cause of depression. This happens because they have constant pain in their joints. Their mobility is restricted. They can no longer enjoy life. Depression can push people into a vicious cycle. They will not feel like doing physical work due to pain. This causes more stiffness in joints. Their mobility further reduces. Depression can increase economic stress. This happens because people with arthritis and depression don’t feel like going to work. It is therefore important to understand the impact of this diagnosis on mental health. Here are some tips to cope with:
  • Support group: A network of friends and family who can understand the situation is very helpful. You can have some emergency contact numbers to help you when in need. Talking to people who have a similar diagnosis can help you understand that you are not alone in this journey. They can also share with you the useful tips to cope with this diagnosis.
  • Counselling: You can talk to a counsellor about your emotional pain. Counselling can help reduce negative thoughts about self.
  • Stress management: This can help in managing mental health. It also reduces stress-related inflammation. Stress also has a relationship with flare-ups in arthritis. When we are stressed, our body releases pain signals. Therefore it is important to control stress. Some useful methods are positive thinking, yoga, imagery and meditation. This can calm your mind and help you find some peace.
At Epsychonline, some courses that help you manage your pain better and cope with this diagnosis. These are curated by experts. These courses help you manage your mental health better when you are going through pain. Do check them out.