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Learn how speaking to your doctor may have a positive effect on your rheumatoid arthritis

(BPT) - For the 1.3 million people across the United States who have rheumatoid arthritis (RA), pain is often a part of life. RA patients can experience pain and stiffness...

(BPT) - For the 1.3 million people across the United States who have rheumatoid arthritis (RA), pain is often a part of life. RA patients can experience pain and stiffness on a daily basis. The disease affects nearly three times as many women as men.

If you have been diagnosed with RA, there is help out there. Having a conversation with your rheumatologist is a start to getting the care you need. Studies show that early diagnosis and treatment of RA can help slow the progression of joint damage.

'We recommend consulting with your doctor and telling them how RA affects your life,' says Ann M. Palmer, president and CEO of the Arthritis Foundation. 'Your rheumatologist's goal is to understand your symptoms and everyday challenges and work with you to develop a plan to help manage your disease.'

RA can be difficult to diagnose, which can create a lag between the onset of symptoms and the initiation of treatment. The disease causes chronic inflammation in the lining of the joints, which can lead to decreased range of motion and permanent joint damage. Therefore, the sooner a patient discusses potential treatment options with their rheumatologist, the better.

The Arthritis Foundation suggests RA patients do some homework before visiting their doctor by "Taking P.A.R.T." Taking P.A.R.T. means a patient should:

* Prepare: You should keep a journal of symptoms and compile a list of questions for your doctor. List all of your medications, including prescriptions, over-the-counter remedies and even herbal supplements.

* Ask questions: You should ask questions whenever something doesn't seem clear and ask about treatment options that may fit your symptoms and lifestyle. This will help to ensure you understand what's going on and how to best manage your condition. Keep it simple, specific and direct.

* Repeat: Take notes and repeat the instructions and information you receive from your doctor to make sure you heard and understand it. Ask for written handouts and instructions.

* Take action: Be part of the solution. Let your doctor know about your lifestyle, concerns and preferences so a treatment plan can be customized to your specific needs.

The Arthritis Foundation has launched a national campaign called Let's Talk RA, sponsored by Bristol-Myers Squibb, to educate RA patients on how to better communicate with their rheumatologists and to highlight how important a doctor-patient relationship is to patient care.

A free Let's Talk RA communication kit that can help patients take a more active role in their care is available from the Arthritis Foundation at, www.letstalkra.org, or by calling (800) 568-4045.

Sponsored by the Arthritis Foundation and Bristol-Myers Squibb.

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