Following Your Treatment Plan
Once your rheumatologist confirms your diagnosis, the next step is to create a rheumatic disease treatment plan for your condition. You and your rheumatologist will work together to create this plan, so you are included in all decisions about your own care. The American College of Rheumatology has created guidelines for treating and managing various rheumatic diseases, so your rheumatologist will use these guidelines to help create your plan, but your involvement means you have a greater chance of success.
What Is a Treatment Plan?
A rheumatic disease treatment plan is a summary of the ways you and your doctor will treat your arthritis or rheumatic disease. Treatment plans usually include medications to treat your rheumatological condition, self-management strategies, measurable targets to ensure good disease control.
You and your rheumatologist will agree on everything in your treatment plan, and it is important for you to follow the treatment plan so you feel better and keep your rheumatic disease under control. It is also important to let your rheumatologist know when the treatment plan is not working for you.
Consider your lifestyle as you create your treatment plan with your rheumatology provider. Don’t hide anything. If you smoke or drink alcohol, tell your rheumatologist. If you plan on getting pregnant, talk about this with your rheumatologist. If you travel for work or take care of your children at home, discuss these things with your rheumatology provider. Your treatment plan can include strategies to manage your rheumatic disease that take all of these factors into consideration. Ultimately, you and your rheumatologist are partners in your care.
How do You Follow Your Treatment Plan?
First, you must be sure that you understand every item in your treatment plan.
Between your appointments with your rheumatologist, make sure you do the following:
- Take your medications as prescribed, including taking them at the proper times and dosages. Ask your rheumatologist or nurse what to do if you forget to take your medications or if you experience side effects.
- If you experience signs of an infection, such as a sudden fever, call your rheumatologist’s office or seek emergency care.
- If you experience possible side effects from your medications, call your rheumatologist’s office or seek emergency care. Ask your rheumatologist what signs may indicate a drug reaction.
- If other doctors for other health conditions prescribe you any medications, let your rheumatologist know.
- If you lose your access to your medications through an unexpected gap in or loss of insurance coverage, call your rheumatologist’s office immediately for help.
- Follow a healthy diet and manage your weight. Ask your rheumatologist or nurse for guidance or resources, such as diet plans or local weight-loss support groups. Excess weight can put strain on weakened joints and lead to other health problems like type-2 diabetes or heart disease.
- Get regular, joint-friendly physical activity. Keeping your joints strong, healthy and flexible is important if you have a rheumatic disease. Daily range-of-motion stretches and weight-bearing exercises like walking can help you feel better and restore function. Ask your rheumatologist, nurse, or physical therapist for more information or resources, like local exercise classes or online videos to follow.
- Keep your stress under control as much as possible. Find healthy ways to relieve stress, such as taking a walk in the park or practicing yoga.
- Keep track of how you feel each day. Write down notes or keep a journal that records if you have any pain or stiffness, if you feel tired or can’t grip tools, or if you are feeling energized. This information will help your rheumatologist decide if your treatment plan is working.
Updated April 2023 by Lisa Carnago, FNP, and reviewed by the American College of Rheumatology Communications and Marketing Committee.
This information is provided for general education only. Individuals should consult a qualified health care provider for professional medical advice, diagnosis and treatment of a medical or health condition.