Support groups help patients cope

 (ARA) - For many patients, receiving a medical diagnosis can cause a mix of emotions - from relief that their symptoms are no longer a mystery, to fear about how to cope with the disease. To manage the range of emotions and live well after a diagnosis, it is important to establish a strong support network. In fact, Dr. John Klippel, CEO of the Arthritis Foundation, believes patients who do so are often in better control of their disease.

Chronic, debilitating diseases like rheumatoid arthritis (RA), an autoimmune form of arthritis, can be especially humbling for people who want to be independent, leaving them feeling embarrassed or reluctant to engage those closest to them. But, creating a network of friends and family who are willing to offer assistance can help ensure a better quality of life. For example, support partners can help patients recall important medical instructions, as well as help guide the discussion with health care providers. In fact, studies have shown that 20 to 50 percent of what is said in the doctor's office is forgotten.

In addition to engaging friends and family, patients can interact with health professionals and peers though in-person or online support groups. Studies show arthritis support groups can improve mood, provide better coping skills, decrease pain and provide relief from negative emotions, such as fear, resentment and hopelessness, according to Dr. Vicki Helgeson, of Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

Patients with a chronic disease such as RA should consider the following when selecting a support group:

* Do your homework: Find support groups where you can talk, share and interact with others.

* Check with your doctor or health professional about community volunteer groups in your area that can provide additional input and assistance.

* Find what works for you: There are various types of support groups, and you may want to experiment with several to find the right fit:

* Closed - requires registration and a commitment to a set number of sessions.

* Group therapy - directed by a mental health professional with a time-limited purpose for specific therapeutic goals.

* Peer - led by a fellow patient, this group's casual format focuses on sharing experiences and learning from others.

* Educational - features an expert's presentation, with a question-and-answer session.

* Online - support found on Internet chat sites or social media channels.