What To Do First After an Arthritis Diagnosis

New arthritis diagnosis? Learn where to find support, how to help stiff and swollen joints, and what to expect from treatment.

By Ability Central

18 April, 2024

A mature female doctor with brown skin and gray-black hair meets with a blurred-out male patient to explain joint pain using an anatomical model of a hand

Approximately 21.2% of adults in America have been diagnosed with arthritis. If you or a loved one has recently joined that list, this article addresses your most pressing questions, including:

  • How do I find service providers for arthritis care?
  • How can family members and friends help a loved one diagnosed with arthritis?
  • What changes should I make at home if diagnosed with arthritis?
  • How can I treat stiff joints?
  • How can I treat swollen joints?
  • What treatments are available for rheumatoid arthritis (RA)?
  • What treatments are available for psoriatic arthritis (PsA)?
  • What are the treatment options for reactive arthritis?
  • Where can I get more information about arthritis?

How do I find service providers for arthritis care?

Ability Central offers a national database of non-profit organizations supporting people with disabilities. The Service Locator tool allows you to search a wide range of service types, community organizations, care programs for adults and children, service centers, and more.

Each nonprofit in the database lists their location, specialties, and target demographic. 

How can family members and friends help a loved one diagnosed with arthritis?

When a person is diagnosed with arthritis, the entire family is affected. The Arthritis Foundation suggests ways families can help:

  • Get educated about your loved one’s specific form of arthritis. 
  • Be available for doctor visits if requested. 
  • Include them in activities as often as they are up to being included.
  • Adjust household responsibilities based on the person’s pain level. 
  • Offer a listening ear, but don’t offer advice unless they ask for it.
  • Help them stay active. 
  • Never minimize their pain. 
  • Help them find support, like online or in-person support groups.
  • Volunteer for the little things, like picking up groceries or prescriptions.
  • Respect their wishes. Offer help when they want it, but respect their independence.

What changes should I make at home if diagnosed with arthritis? 

Many people with arthritis focus on maintaining their independence for as long as possible. In some cases, this involves changes around the house to add convenience and minimize the risk of injury.

Anyone can make their home safer and more arthritis-friendly without entirely remodeling the house. The goal is to make everyday tasks like cooking, cleaning, and using the bathroom easier. Removing barriers to these activities helps people with arthritis go about their daily lives without exacerbating their symptoms.

Home safety considerations for people with arthritis can be effective anywhere in the house. 

In the kitchen: 

  • Move frequently-used cookware within easy reach.
  • Invest in ergonomic cooking tools like rocker knives.
  • Sit in a chair while chopping vegetables or doing the dishes.

In hallways and on stairs:

  • Install non-slip mats on stairs or wood floors.
  • Remove throw rugs and other tripping hazards. 
  • Install extra lighting, especially outdoors.
  • Keep walking paths clear of clutter.

In the bathroom:

  • Use a shower seat to lower how much energy it takes to bathe.
  • Install grab bars by the toilet, tub, and shower.
  • Install a lamp or plug-in light to keep the area gently lit at night.
  • Keep a bench near the bathtub to help get in and out.

Many people with arthritis remain independent for years. The goal of these arthritis home safety tips isn’t to take away your independence; rather, it’s to ensure your safety in the times when arthritis symptoms make it difficult to complete daily tasks.

For some people, assisted living facilities or may become necessary as symptoms progress. See Arthritis: Know Your Long-term Care Options for more details.

How can I treat stiff or swollen joints?

Joint stiffness and effusion (swelling) can be an overwhelming part of arthritis. Treatment varies based on your unique symptoms and diagnosis. 

Your doctor might recommend home remedies like: 

  • Using a heating pad or ice pack to reduce swelling.
  • Low-impact physical activity (walking, biking, swimming, etc.) to keep the joints loose.
  • Over-the-counter pain medications or NSAIDs like aspirin or ibuprofen.
  • Over-the-counter supplements like fish oil or vitamins B12, D, and K.
  • Rest or stretching, depending on the symptoms. 
  • Dietary changes, like avoiding fatty acids and eating more fruits, vegetables, and legumes.
  • Lifestyle changes, like exercise, weight loss, or quitting tobacco.

If your symptoms don’t respond to home treatments, your doctor might recommend:

  • Topical treatments, like creams or gels designed to combat arthritis symptoms.
  • Cortisone injections. Cortisone is an anti-inflammatory steroid medication that helps decrease inflammation.
  • Prescription medications like antibiotics or strong anti-inflammatory medication.
  • Drugs used to treat specific forms of arthritis, like gout.
  • IV treatments with medications like DMARDs or biologics. 
  • Cannabis treatments (in certain states).

When a joint remains painfully stiff and swollen for a long time, your doctor might recommend a procedure called arthrocentesis. During arthrocentesis, a doctor drains synovial fluid (the protective fluids around the joint) to reduce inflammation. They may also send the removed fluid for further testing. 

What treatments are available for rheumatoid arthritis (RA)?

The goal of treatment for rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is to:

  • Reduce pain and stiffness.
  • Relieve fatigue.
  • Prevent damage to joints.
  • Slow the progression of the disease.

Your doctor may ask you to make lifestyle changes, including:

  • Prioritizing sleep.
  • Exercising regularly.
  • Losing weight.
  • Establishing a self-care routine.

Doctors also use a variety of medications to help with RA, like NSAIDs, DMARDs, JAK inhibitors, and corticosteroids. Some severe cases may also require surgery for the affected joints.

What treatments are available for psoriatic arthritis (PsA)?

Psoriatic arthritis treatment focuses on controlling inflammation, preventing joint pain, and clearing up skin symptoms like rashes or flaking. 

In addition to prescription medications, doctors may suggest:

  • Occupational therapy
  • Physical therapy
  • Steroid injections
  • Joint-replacement surgery

What are the treatment options for reactive arthritis?

Reactive arthritis occurs because of an infection. Formerly known as Reiter's syndrome, reactive arthritis develops most often between the ages of 20 and 50.

The goal of treating reactive arthritis is to manage your symptoms and treat an infection that could still be present. The treatment plan may include a combination of:

  • Antibiotics
  • Over-the-counter pain medication
  • Steroids
  • Prescription arthritis medication
  • Physical therapy

Where can I get more information about arthritis?

Ability Central offers a series of articles to further your knowledge about arthritis. See:

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