Making decisions about rheumatoid arthritis medications

Coping with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can feel overwhelming at times. Choosing the right RA medication can sometimes be a challenge, too; that’s because medications that work well for some people may not work at all for others. You’re not on your own, though – you and your health care provider will work together to choose the best medication for your symptoms and lifestyle.

Before your treatment begins, talk about the risks and benefits of each type of medication with your health care provider. Here are some questions that you could ask:

    • How long have you been prescribing this medication for people with RA?
    • What are the side effects of this medication? Do they usually happen early in treatment or later on?
    • Is this medication given as a pill, a shot, or through an IV?
    • If I need injections, can they be done at home or will I need to come to the office?
    • If I get this medication through an IV, how long does it take? Is it done in your office or at a hospital?
    • How often do I need to take this medication?
    • How long before I start to feel better?
    • What if this medication doesn’t work?
    • Will I need to come in for extra monitoring, like blood tests? If so, how often?
    • How does this medication interact with the other medications that I’m taking?
    • What is the overall cost of this medication? If I need help to pay for it, how do I reach the drug company’s patient assistance program?
    • Is there anything special about my medical history that makes me more likely to have a side effect from this medication than other people? (For example, if you have a history of cancer or frequent infections, ask your provider about using RA medications.)

During each appointment

    • To make the most of your time with your health care provider, bring a list of questions and concerns to each appointment.
    • Put your most important questions at the top of the list and ask them first. Write the list clearly so you can give it to the health care provider if he or she asks to see it. Some providers like to read lists of questions on their own, while others might want you to read out loud from the sheet.
    • Talk about any recent changes in how you’ve been feeling and any big changes in the health of your family members.
    • Bring along a clearly written or typed list of your latest medications. Include any natural treatments, like herbs, or over-the-counter medicines, like ibuprofen. Give the list to your health care provider and highlight any changes in your medications since your last visit. Your provider will use all of this information to decide how well your medication is working. The amount that you take may need to be raised or lowered.
  • Never change the amount of medication that you take without talking to your provider first!

It’s hard to remember everything that’s said during an appointment, so it may help to take notes. Some people ask a family member or friend to come with them to each appointment for this reason.

At the end of your visit, look over your notes. If you’re confused by any of your provider’s medication instructions, ask to have them written out for you. Point out any comments that you don’t understand or that you need to have explained again. The best way to manage your RA is by asking questions and being sure of the answers that you’re given.