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Your Arthritis Health Care Team

Arthritis is a complicated disease that affects many areas of the body. Knowing how to work with different health care specialists can improve your care and improve your 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, your role as part of your health care team can make the difference in how well you function with pain, stiffness or inflammation.

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

Working with the team

In addition to seeing your health care provider, you may be referred 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 the body, so the team also could include a cardiologist, neurologist or other specialist.

Before the visit

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

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

  • Coordinate with team members. For instance, 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 the rheumatologist's office the day before your visit to confirm the information was received. Any way you can facilitate your care will help in the end.

During the visit

  • Be engaged, open, honest and forthright. Don't withhold any information that may help your doctor come up with a better diagnosis or treatment. Tell your doctor what's bothering you.

  • If you don't understand something, ask. Find out why a certain treatment is recommended, and what to do if problems occur. When you're given a recommendation, repeat it back to the health care provider in your own words.

  • Make note of any "home-run" medications. If a certain drug really helped ease your pain or stiffness in the past, let your physician know about it now.

  • Point out any drug allergies. If a certain medication once made you very ill, you don't want to take it again.

After the visit

  • Follow any treatment advice. Have the appropriate lab work done. Take medications just 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 any questions or problems. Doing so right away can keep simple problems from becoming complex.