So you or someone you know has rheumatoid arthritis (RA)? I am glad to know that you are interested in learning more about it. RA medicines may be the only way to slow down and prevent joint damage. There are many different medicines that can be used to treat RA, and it is important to learn about the ones that have been prescribed for you. In addition to understanding your medicine, how do you know if the medicine you are taking is working?
Ways to tell if your treatment is working
- Physically: Are you feeling better and have less stiffness? Stiffness should last less than 45 minutes. Do you have less swelling and tenderness on examination?
- Laboratory evaluation: Your healthcare team can measure erythrocyte sedimentation rates and C-reactive protein levels
- Imaging: Your healthcare team can use X-ray, ultrasound, or MRI to look at the joints and determine if there is less inflammation and swelling
Many doctor’s offices now perform ultrasounds or have an MRI machine, and these tests can be done in the office. Of course, your physician will also examine you and discuss the swelling or tenderness he or she finds.
Notice that I did not mention how much pain you might notice. Of course you have pain with your arthritis; however, pain can be made worse by social factors. For example, if you have a fight with your spouse or an argument with your boss, the stress from these events can cause you to hurt worse. Thus, this is what we refer to as “subjective” measurement rather than an “objective” measurement of your disease activity. An example of an objective measurement would be the swelling found on examination. That’s why we use tenderness, swelling of the joints and morning stiffness as more reliable indicators of rheumatoid arthritis disease activity.
Some medications can take a while to start working, and others can have an effect more quickly. Whatever treatment you are prescribed, it is very important for you to communicate any questions and concerns you have regarding your treatment to your healthcare provider. You should be asking him or her what parameters will be used to determine if your treatment is working.