Tracking Your Rheumatoid Arthritis
How Tracking Your Rheumatoid Arthritis Can Help
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When you’re doing everything you can to manage a chronic condition like rheumatoid arthritis (RA), it can be frustrating to experience a flare-up of symptoms. Out of all the of things you did earlier in the day (or week), it might be hard to pinpoint the culprit.
The solution: Track your day-to-day habits — everything from your meals to your moods. Doing so can help you and your doctor identify key aspects of your daily routine that may be helping or hurting your joints.
The Benefits of Tracking RA Symptoms
When you track certain aspects of your life, you and your doctor may identify a flare earlier, uncover a new trigger, or adjust your treatment to help provide relief, says Anca D. Askanase, MD, MPH, a rheumatologist at ColumbiaDoctors and Columbia University Medical Center in New York City, the founder and clinical director of Columbia’s Lupus Center, and the director of Rheumatology Clinical Trials.
Another plus: Tracking your RA can help you feel more in charge. “Symptom tracking gives people a sense of control and involvement in disease management, making them a more equal partner in their treatment,” Dr. Askanase says.
In fact, researchers found that using certain apps and digital tools can have a positive impact on people with chronic arthritis, according to an October 2019 review in the journalJMIR mHealth and uHealth.
How to Get Started
The first step is to talk to your healthcare provider about the best way to track your daily habits and how to share that information with your healthcare team, Askanase says. Here’s how you can get started.
Choose between digital or pen and paper.This depends on your preference and your conversation with your healthcare provider. “Apps are likely the easiest way to track symptoms, medications, and your diet,” Askanase says. You can sign up for Everyday Health's free My Daily RA tracker and receive daily text messages that can help you stay on top of your condition. “However, a good old-fashioned notebook may also do the trick,” adds Askanase.
Designate journaling time.You won’t see the patterns between your lifestyle and your arthritis symptoms unless you track them regularly, Askanase says. Stay on top of it by adding tracking to your routine, such as regularly inputting information after your shower, during a lunch break, or before going to bed.
Be thorough.Be sure to note the most relevant information, including:
- Symptoms:This may be the most important part of monitoring your RA, Askanase says. Be sure to record any joint pain, stiffness, swelling, and fatigue. You should also note whether the pain is aching, shooting, sharp, throbbing, or tight (like a muscle spasm), the Arthritis Foundation recommends. Use a scale of zero to 10 to describe its intensity, with zero indicating ‘no pain’ and 10 as ‘unimaginable pain.’
- Medication:Medication adherence is also crucial to taking control of RA. Include both prescription and over-the-counter medications, the time of day you take them, and your current dosage, Askanase says. You should also take note if you miss a dose.
- Nutrition:Write down what you eat, your portion sizes, and the time of day you ate. Some foods, such as sugar and saturated fats, may increase inflammation, according to the Arthritis Foundation. That said, knowing what you’re eating and comparing it with your symptoms may help you identify patterns. If you’re trying to lose weight to better help your RA, tracking your food and calories can help, as well.
- Activity:Exercise not only helps with weight-loss, it also helps strengthen the muscles around your joints. With the approval of your healthcare provider, incorporating high-intensity exercise such as jogging may help improve your RA symptomsandyour mood, says the Arthritis Foundation. Keep track of the exercises you do and how long you spend doing them.
How to Make the Most of RA Tracking
After you’ve spent some time tracking, bring your journal to your next doctor visit and share your results with your healthcare provider. “Until we find a cure, patient-driven RA tracking is another step toward better control of arthritis,” Askanase says.
But as you track, keep in mind that it may not always be helpful to go overboard by documenting every move you make, says Michele Meltzer, MD, a rheumatologist at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia.
What’s most important is to understand your condition. If you’re no longer able to do the things you used to do — for instance, you can’t go to the gym any longer, you’re missing work, you can’t clean your house — be sure to communicate that with your healthcare provider, Dr. Meltzer says.
Video: Tracking Your Rheumatoid Arthritis: MyRA App
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