Rheumatoid arthritis - Living with 

Living with rheumatoid arthritis 

Rheumatoid arthritis can be life-changing. You may need long-term treatment to control your symptoms and reduce joint damage.

Depending on how much pain and stiffness you feel and how much joint damage you have, you may have to adapt the way you carry out simple daily tasks. They can become difficult or take longer to complete.

Self care

Self care is an integral part of daily life. It involves taking responsibility for your own health and wellbeing with support from the people involved in your care. Self care includes things you do each day to stay fit, maintain good physical and mental health, prevent illness or accidents, and effectively deal with minor ailments and long-term conditions.

If you're living with a long-term condition, self care can benefit you enormously. You can live longer with less pain, anxiety, depression and fatigue, experience a better quality of life and be more active and independent.

Read more about self care.

Take your medication

It is important to take your medication as prescribed, even if you start to feel better. Continuous medication can help prevent flare-ups. If you have any questions or concerns about the medication you are taking or side effects, talk to your healthcare team.

It may also be useful to read the information leaflet that comes with the medication about possible interactions with other drugs or supplements. Check with your healthcare team before taking any over-the-counter remedies, such as painkillers or nutritional supplements. These can sometimes interfere with your medication.

Regular reviews

Because rheumatoid arthritis is a long-term condition, you will be in contact with your healthcare team regularly. The more the team knows, the more they can help you, so discuss your symptoms or any concerns with them.

Keeping well

Everyone with a long-term condition, such as rheumatoid arthritis, is encouraged to get a yearly flu jab each autumn to protect against flu. They are also recommended to get a pneumoccocal vaccination. This is a one-off injection that protects against a serious chest infection called pneumococcal pneumonia.

Get plenty of rest during a flare-up as this is when your joints can be particularly painful and inflamed. Putting further strain on very swollen and painful joints can often make the pain and inflammation worse.

Healthy eating and exercise

Regular exercise and a healthy diet are recommended for everyone, not just people with rheumatoid arthritis. They can help prevent many conditions, including heart disease and many forms of cancer.

Exercising regularly can help relieve stress and reduce fatigue. A gentle form of exercise that does not put too much strain on your joints is best. Swimming, for example, helps exercise your muscles, but puts very little strain on your joints because the water supports your weight.

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Self management hide

Taking control of rheumatoid arthritis will help you cope with its impact on your lifestyle. Arthritis Care offers self management training courses to teach techniques for living positively with arthritis. Techniques include relaxation and breathing exercises to help pain control, goal-setting exercises and positive thinking to help give you some control over your condition.

A self management programme specifically for people with rheumatoid arthritis has been developed by the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society (NRAS). The course helps people learn more about their condition and provides practical tips on how to manage everyday life.

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    Talk to others in the same situation show

    Many people find it helpful to talk to others in a similar position, and you may find support from an individual or group of people with rheumatoid arthritis. Patient organisations have local support groups where you can meet others diagnosed with the same condition.

    Call the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society (NRAS) helpline free on 0800 298 7650 (Monday-Friday, 9.30am-4.30pm) to speak to a trained rheumatoid arthritis adviser. NRAS also has a team of medical advisers.

    You can also call Arthritis Care's free, confidential helpline on 0808 800 4050 (Monday-Friday, 10am-4pm). There is also a 24-hour helpline on 0845 600 6868 if you want to know more about Arthritis Care services and receive an information pack.

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    Tackling pain  show

    Pain is one of the most common symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, but it can be managed in a number of ways, including:

    • drug treatment
    • heat treatment, such as warm baths or packs
    • cold treatment, such as cold packs or a TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) electrical device, which is thought to reduce pain by stimulating the nerves
    • relaxation techniques, for example simple methods of relaxation, massage or hypnosis

    To manage your symptoms, it is possible to use more than one of these approaches at the same time (for example, using a drug treatment, heat pack and relaxation techniques). The experience of pain is unique to everybody, so what works for you may differ from what works for someone else.

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    Understanding your feelings  show

    It can be hard to deal with the unpredictable nature of rheumatoid arthritis. Some days, the pain and stiffness will be much worse than others, and there is no way of knowing when a flare-up will occur.

    The difficult nature of rheumatoid arthritis can mean that some people develop depression or feelings of stress and anxiety. Sometimes, these feelings can be related to poorly controlled pain or fatigue. Living with any long-term condition makes you more likely to have a range of emotions such as frustration, fear, pain, anger and resentment.

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    Starting and raising a family  show

    If you are taking medicines for rheumatoid arthritis, let your healthcare team know if you want to start a family. Some drug treatments, such as methotrexate, leflunomide and biological treatments, should not be taken by men or women while they are trying for a baby. The doctors and nurses will work with you to ensure your rheumatoid arthritis is controlled while you are trying to get pregnant.

    Talk to your healthcare team if you want to get pregnant or are worried about becoming pregnant while on rheumatoid arthritis drugs.

    Babies and young children are physically and mentally demanding for any parent, but particularly if you have rheumatoid arthritis. If you are struggling to cope, talk to other people in the same situation as you. You may also be able to get additional support from your health visitor or occupational therapist to help you manage your young family.

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    Sex and relationships  show

    Pain, discomfort and changes in the way you look and feel can affect your sex life. Your self-esteem or thoughts about how you look may affect your confidence. Although many people find it difficult to talk about such private issues, there are resources that might help you. Talking to your partner or GP about the impact of rheumatoid arthritis on your sexuality and sexual relationships may help.

    Want to know more?

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    Money and benefits show

    If you have to stop work or work part time because of your rheumatoid arthritis, you may find it hard to cope financially. You may be entitled to one or more of the following types of financial support:

    • If you have a job, but cannot work because of your illness, you are entitled to Statutory Sick Pay from your employer.  
    • If you do not have a job and cannot work because of your illness, you may be entitled to Employment and Support Allowance.  
    • If you are aged 64 or under and need help with personal care or have walking difficulties, you may be eligible for a Personal Independence Payment
    • If you are aged 65 or over, you may be able to get Attendance Allowance
    • If you are caring for someone with rheumatoid arthritis, you may be entitled to Carer’s Allowance.
    • You may be eligible for other benefits if you have children living at home or if you have a low household income.

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    Page last reviewed: 25/07/2012

    Next review due: 25/07/2014


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