Finding the best treatment for a chronic health condition is hardly ever a simple process—and rheumatoid arthritis is no different. After all, people’s symptoms can vary wildly in severity, so finding the right medication for you can take some time and a bit of experimentation.
That’s because it can take several weeks for your rheumatoid arthritis medication to kick in, so you might not always know if it’s helping right away (if only!). Plus, some drugs may work for a while and then stop, prompting a relapse in symptoms. After a certain point, you may realize that your current treatment plan just isn’t doing it for you, and that’s pretty normal.
But how can you tell when you’ve reached that point? The answer looks a little different for everyone, so we asked five people with rheumatoid arthritis when they knew it was time to switch things up. They’ve been there, done that, and their stories show that listening to your body, being honest with your doctor (and yourself), and being open to trying new approaches can literally be life-changing.
1. Your symptoms start resurfacing gradually.
Ashley Nicole, 38, was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in 2010. “My hands were extremely painful due to inflammation, swelling, and stiffness,” she tells SELF. “I also had limited mobility in my wrists.”
The personal trainer and founder of RA Warrior Fitness relies on her joints to support her during work, so she can demonstrate exercises to clients. Nicole’s rheumatologist originally started her on a biologic medication, which targets the part of the immune system involved with causing rheumatoid arthritis. It helped—but only for a while. “It gave me relief from joint pain, but it gradually stopped working after about a year,” she recalls.
Eventually, Nicole once again started dealing with joint pain in her hands and wrists, which got worse over time. So, she visited her rheumatologist to get to the bottom of it. “I’m blessed to have an amazing rheumatologist,” Nicole says. “I talked to her about how I was feeling and wanted to try something new and she agreed.”
Nicole tried several different medications after that because nothing worked fully. Finally, she tried the different biologic that she’s currently using, which has helped reduce her pain for the past four years. “It works like a charm,” Nicole says. “I have occasional discomfort, especially when the weather changes, but I’d rate most days a 2.5 or 3 out of 10 on a pain scale with 10 being a huge, painful flare,” Nicole says. “I have my RA under control now. It’s a wonderful feeling.”
2. Or your symptoms come back really suddenly.
Kelly Rouba-Boyd was just two years old when she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in 1982. “Normally, I was a really good toddler and my mom became concerned because I was rather fussy and had a fever. A little later on, I was limping,” the now-41-year-old tells SELF.
Rouba-Boyd’s pediatrician immediately suspected she had arthritis due to these symptoms, and she received an official diagnosis not long after. Initially, Rouba-Boyd was treated with baby aspirin. “At that point in time, they didn’t have much to treat children with rheumatoid arthritis,” she explains. “But that did not do much to stop the progression of the disease.”