If you’re about to see a rheumatologist for the first time, you’re on the right path. Studies show the earlier you’re treated for your rheumatoid arthritis, the more likely you are to feel better sooner and stay active longer.

Rheumatologists have the special training to make a treatment plan just for you. Your first visit will be part conversation, part examination. Your appointment may take a few hours, but it will be well worth the time. Because RA is a long-term disease, you’ll see this doctor often.

Do Your Homework
Rheumatologists are like detectives looking for clues to relieve your pain and treat your condition. To give your new doctor a head start:

Create a timeline. Go back as far as you can remember. Describe your symptoms and how they’ve changed over time.

Do some family research. What kinds of problems run in your family? Find out what you can about the health of your grandparents, parents, and any brothers and sisters.

Brown bag it. Your rheumatologist will need a list of your prescriptions for RA and other health problems; over-the-counter medicines like aspirin, rub-on creams, and other pain relievers; vitamins, herbs, and supplements. To make it easy, toss your medicines into a bag and take them with you.

Ask your other doctors for copies of your records and any test results or X-rays, and take them with you, too.

Do Ask, Do Tell
It’s important to be honest and open with your rheumatologist from the first time you meet. Be ready to ask and answer questions. Tell your doctor how you feel and what you do to take care of yourself.

One of the first questions the doctor will ask is, “What brings you here?” This is your chance to tell him how RA is affecting your life.

Then, get ready to answer a lot of questions, like:

What are your symptoms?
How often do you have symptoms? (All the time, daily, weekly, every now and then?)
What makes you feel better? (Exercise, rest, medicine?)
What makes you feel worse? (Lack of activity, not enough sleep, stress, eating a certain kind of food?)
What activities cause pain? (Walking, bending, reaching, sitting for too long?)
Where on your body is the pain?
How bad is the pain?
Which words best describe your pain? (Dull, sharp, stabbing, throbbing, burning, aching, cramping, radiating?)
How does the pain make you feel? (Tired, upset, sick?)
Does it stop you from doing things you enjoy? (Gardening, shopping, taking care of children, having sex?)
Are there symptoms other than joint, muscle, or bone pain that seem to be linked? (Rashes, itching, dry mouth or eyes, fevers, infections?)
Some questions may not seem to be about rheumatoid arthritis, but your doctor has a good reason for asking them. Tell him if you want to know why or if you feel uncomfortable.