When to Call the Doctor

As a person who has lived with rheumatoid arthritis since I was a very young child and who has been independent and stubborn that entire time as well, I haven’t always followed the rule book on when to call the doctor. But I feel like I now have good guidelines for myself that have been developed in advance with the guidance of my doctors.

Having a plan in place

First, I think it is important to have a few healthcare professionals that you see, know, and trust. In my case, I see a lot of different doctors, but my top go-to health support team is my rheumatologist and my general practitioner. I highly recommend having at least two. (As an aside, I would also like to have a nurse I could call but currently do not. The reason is that they may know you better and be easier to reach than a physician, and can get a doctor’s attention if that is needed.)

I have a pre-arranged plan with my rheumatologist for when I have a flare. He has arranged for me to have access to emergency prednisone and if that doesn’t work within a certain timeframe, I call him for more guidance.

Additionally, because I am taking a biologic medication, I have instructions from my rheumatologist to call immediately if I should ever get a fever. His reasoning is that fevers are a sign of infection, which is very dangerous for people taking biologics due to the suppressed immune system not being able to mount a quick and proper response. If I have a fever I need to call him and get a visit with him or another doctor as soon as possible.

Most of my health problems are RA-related, so my primary plan for when I’m in trouble is to call my rheumatologist. However, I have found it important to have a responsive general practitioner as well. I will call her, in addition to my rheumatologist, to give her updates and ask for guidance. She can often get me in quicker for an appointment and prescribe antibiotics if I have an infection or consult with my rheumatologist as needed.

A balancing act

Every person is different and should have a discussion with trusted and reliable health care professionals about when to call. My personality and preference is to try to self-treat for a day or two before calling my doctor (except for a fever), so I have a plan that has been arranged around my comfort with this.

But I think it’s also important to know my limits. I know the signs of infection well, and so take extra precautions if I suspect one. I also am careful to watch if I am healing or improving—if not then I had better call and get help. If I have persistent symptoms that I’m not sure are getting better (such as a cough)—then again, I need to call.

If possible, I think it’s also helpful to have a loved one be a part of these discussions and be vigilant on your behalf. If I am not feeling well, I often consult with my husband to ask what he sees and talk over my symptoms with him. I know that when I do not feel right, my thinking and decision-making is compromised. If he is concerned, then I had better call the doctor. I often ask him to make the call because he can relay what I say and also add his observations.

It’s often not a clear decision about whether to call the doctor or not. In those cases, I always call because I feel it’s better to take proactive action for my health than to later regret not getting help.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The RheumatoidArthritis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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