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Your Arthritis Health Care Team

Arthritis is a complicated disease that affects many areas of your body. Understanding how to work with different health care specialists can improve your care and quality of life.

Arthritis can make even simple tasks — walking, typing, cutting food, brushing teeth, climbing stairs — uncomfortable or impossible. No matter what form of arthritis you have, taking an active role in your health care team can help determine how well you function with pain, stiffness, or inflammation.

What's your role? To communicate well, stay organized and, most important, adopt a take-charge attitude.

Working with your team

When you see your health care provider, he or she may refer you to a rheumatologist (a specialist in arthritis care), a physical or occupational therapist, or an orthopedic surgeon, depending on how severe your arthritis is. Some less common forms of arthritis can affect nearly any organ or system in your body, so your team also could include a cardiologist, neurologist, or other specialist.

Before your visit

  • Get organized. Bring information about your medical history to your appointment. Bring a list of your current symptoms.

  • List all your medications. Before your visit, list all of your medication names, how much of each you take, and how often. Even better, put all the labeled medication containers in a bag and take them with you.

  • Coordinate with team members. If your primary care physician tells you he or she will send your lab work to your rheumatologist before your next visit, don't assume it will happen. Call your rheumatologist's office the day before your visit to confirm it received the information. Any way you can facilitate your care will help in the end.

During your visit

  • Be engaged, open, honest, and forthright. Don't withhold any information that may help your doctor diagnose or treat your condition. Tell your doctor what's bothering you.

  • If you don't understand something, ask. Find out why your doctor recommends a certain treatment, and what to do if problems occur. When a health care provider makes a recommendation, repeat it back to him or her in your own words.

  • Note "home-run" medications. If a certain drug helped ease your pain or stiffness in the past, tell your physician.

  • Note drug allergies. If a certain medication once made you ill, don't take it again.

After your visit

  • Follow treatment advice. Get your appropriate lab work done. Take medications exactly as they're prescribed —  unless you experienced a dangerous side effect. Then stop the medication and call the prescribing doctor. Don't change your treatment program on your own without good reason, such as serious side effects. Return for follow-up visits.

  • Communicate questions or problems. Doing so right away can keep simple problems from becoming complex.