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 things you did earlier in the day (or week), it might be hard to pinpoint what’s causing a flare.
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.
When you track certain aspects of your life, it can help you and your doctor identify a flare earlier, uncover a new trigger, or adjust your treatment as needed 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,” says Dr. Askanase.
In fact, researchers found that using certain apps and digital tools can have a positive impact on people with chronic arthritis, according to a review published in October 2016 in the journal JMIR mHealth and uHealth.
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, says Askanase. 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,” says Askanase. 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 can 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, says Askanase. 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:
After you’ve spent some time tracking, bring your RA log 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,” says Askanase.
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, explains Dr. Meltzer.