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Normal Aches and Pains or Arthritis?

Should You Consult a Doctor?


Updated June 05, 2014


Just about everyone has an occasional bout of aches and pains. It seems normal. But what if those aches and pains start to affect your life and interfere with daily activities? What if they don't go away? Should you see a doctor?

With most diseases and conditions, patients evaluate their symptoms and decide if a doctor should be consulted sooner rather than later. For rheumatoid arthritis patients, though, more enters into making that decision, according to study results that appear in the September 24, 2008 edition of the journal Rheumatology. Four main factors influence when rheumatoid arthritis patients seek medical advice. The factors are:

1 - How symptoms affect your ability to function normally.
2 - If you can explain away or give reason for your symptoms.
3 - Your knowledge of rheumatoid arthritis and available treatment options.
4 - Your attitude towards doctors and other medical professionals.

When Symptoms Affect Normal Activities

If symptoms are severe enough to interfere with normal functioning and your ability to perform usual activities early in the course of rheumatoid arthritis, you may bite the bullet and go to the doctor. The disruption in your life serves as the incentive to consult with a doctor.

If symptoms are not terribly disruptive, you may choose to wait before consulting a doctor. It's really quite simple -- is there a sense of urgency? A sense of urgency, or lack of, dictates when a doctor is consulted.

Explanation of Symptoms

How did your aches and pains begin? Was there an event, such as an injury, that caused your symptoms? Did the symptoms begin gradually or suddenly, without obvious cause?

Typically, patients who feel comfortable with the explanation of their symptoms will wait before consulting a doctor. For example, if you walked into a wall and you developed aches and pains, you are more likely to give the symptoms a chance to subside on their own. But if there is no logical explanation surrounding your symptoms, you likely will choose to see a doctor so the symptoms can be evaluated.

Knowledge of Rheumatoid Arthritis and Treatment Options

If you know much about rheumatoid arthritis, you know that an accurate diagnosis and early treatment is essential. Early treatment with DMARDs (disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs) and biologics may help prevent joint damage and subsequent disability. According to Scott J. Zashin, MD, a rheumatologist in Dallas, Texas, "In the past, up to 30% of patients who had rheumatoid arthritis for 2 to 3 years would become disabled."

With biologic treatments -- treatments that were marketed since 1998 -- the prognosis for rheumatoid arthritis is better. It's worth consulting a doctor and agreeing on your treatment regimen, so you can be assured you are on the right path.

Attitude Towards the Medical Profession

If you have had positive experiences with doctors in the past, you are more likely to consult with a doctor about your aches and pains -- sooner rather than later. If you have respect for doctors in general, and if you trust those you have had in the past, you likely won't balk at getting your symptoms checked out.

The problem occurs if you have a history of bad medical experiences, or if you find it difficult to trust doctors. There are even conspiracy theorists who think doctors keep us sick because drug companies give them kickbacks to do so.

Point to Remember

Simply put, if your symptoms are interfering with normal life, if you understand that early treatment is important, and if you trust your doctor to know what to do and how to help you, you're more likely to see the doctor.

Dr. Zashin is clinical assistant professor at University of Texas Southwestern Medical School and an attending physician at Presbyterian Hospitals of Dallas and Plano. Dr. Zashin is author of Arthritis Without Pain - The Miracle Of TNF Blockers.


I Just Thought It Was Normal Aches and Pains. Sheppard J. et.al. Rheumatology. 9/24/2008.

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