Image depicts on an internal struggle of a man that is pulling himself via life raft over to a doctor who is extending her hand out to greet him

Listen to Your Body, See a Doctor

Lately, I have been thinking about why people do not seek treatment for Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) or one of the other Rheumatic Diseases (RD). It is confusing to me how people can suffer so much and yet, for whatever reason, they fail to identify that suffering to doctors who can refer them to a rheumatologist or if they do identify it, they are fine with being told to slow down and take some Tylenol.

Why delay seeking RA treatment?

My friend is worried about having RA

I have a friend, a lady who has been asking me about RA for more than three years now. I am glad to answer her questions, but for three years they are the same question. How would she know? (See a rheumatologist.) Can something be done if I do have RA? (Yes.) Will it be expensive? (Maybe.) Can she do alternative treatments? (For what? Goodness sakes you do not even know you have RA.) In the end, she goes away saying yes, she needs to see a doctor and she might or might not ask my opinion about a good rheumatologist.

What stops a person from getting RA treatment?

Why is this so darn difficult? This lady is a little older than me (I am an old fart at 62). She has Medicare. I mean, come on - go get seen and stop worrying. At least stop worrying about whether you have RA. Worry instead about the damage you are doing by not acting. If she puts even a minor amount of worry into that, she would have seen a rheumatologist three years ago.

Instead, she seemingly allows her range of movement to decrease and her joints to swell all the time, asking me (and others) if we think she has RA. What does a person in my position say? I tell her though I am a doctor, I am not that kind of doctor. If we are discussing school district budgets, I might be the right guy. But ask me to make a diagnosis of RA and I have to demur because I am totally out of my league.

Having RA doesn't make me an expert on RA

When someone asks me if I think they have RA, they are saying "Hey, you must be an expert on this disease." No, I am not an expert; the fact that I have RA makes me an expert about me, that is all. And even then, I am often confused about symptoms and what it means to have this or that outcome. But it does not make me an expert on all people who have RA, and if I was a rheumatologist, I would still say come to the office and let’s check it out.

Don't delay seeing a rheumatologist

RA is nothing to mess around with. I tell her constantly: once joint function is lost, it does not come back 100%. Even with surgery, we are usually not as good as before RA. I think she fails to comprehend that she can feel better, regardless if it is RA, osteoarthritis, or something else. But feeling better takes that first step. She must see a qualified doctor.

Get help sooner rather than later

If you are reading this and you wonder if you have RA or something else might be wrong, please take my advice. See your doctor and ask for a referral; tell your doctor the truth and do it sooner rather than later. Many times doctors have a tough time believing us when we tell them what we are experiencing. Sometimes, we have to repeat ourselves many times before we get in front of a rheumatologist.

But the sooner we start the process, the closer we are to talking to someone who can help. RA is a big scary disease, I get that. No one is saying it will be easy, but you must take the first step. Thinking about it is fine. Talking is fine, but please do not let that be a substitute for doing something. It is too important to put off.

I wonder, if you are putting it off, why are you not seeing a doctor? If you have been diagnosed, did you put off talking to your doctor at first? If you did, was it because of cost, fear, confusion, or something else? Leave your thoughts. I would like to understand your insights.

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