When you first receive your rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis, there is so much to learn: What is RA? What does it mean for me? How is it treated, and what does treatment entail?
As you are sorting through information about the disease, you may find that one of the first conversations you have with your healthcare provider is about treatment options. Beginning treatment early is important to help prevent progressive joint damage. And the good news is there are a number of approved therapies out there.
Because RA usually involves inflammation in the tissues lining the insides of the joints, many patients are prescribed corticosteroids to control the inflammation, sometimes in conjunction with other medications, to relieve acute symptoms. However, steroids can cause a range of side effects, and people usually do not like to use them long-term. It’s important for you and your doctor to weigh the risks and benefits for your specific situation.
As you begin to interact with your healthcare team and other patients, you may hear the acronym “DMARD,” which describes a group of therapies known as “disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs.” These drugs help slow or stop the progress of RA by blocking inflammation.
In recent years, a group of new DMARDs, called biologics, have become available for RA patients. These therapies target specific points in the inflammatory process and may work more quickly than traditional DMARDs, sometimes when other treatments haven’t helped. They are injected or given by infusion at a doctor’s office.
The newest subcategory of DMARDs are called “JAK inhibitors” because they block the Janus kinase, or JAK, pathways, which are involved in the body’s immune response. JAK inhibitors are taken orally.5
The therapy decisions you make with your healthcare provider will incorporate a number of factors, including information about your condition based on your lab results, what your insurance requires and how your body responds to medication once you begin a course of therapy. Many rheumatologists use Vectra® to assess inflammation, which can provide a valuable, objective measure of your current disease state and whether your current treatment is working.
As rheumatologist Dr. Susan Zito shared with our Ambassador team last year, it’s important for patients to hold doctors to high standards. “The words, ‘I’m doing great,’ spoken by a patient shouldn’t translate into not needing to evaluate whether therapy is working,” noted Dr. Zito. “Even when a patient is feeling good, there’s a need for objective evidence.”
She also encouraged patients to push for different therapies if their current therapy isn’t working, noting some of the challenges when insurers require that a patient follow a specific path of trying and failing certain treatments before allowing access to another treatment. Dr. Zito highlighted the importance of partnering with your doctor to provide evidence when insurance-mandated therapies don’t work.
New treatments continue to be researched, and RA patients can have hope that scientists are looking for medicines that are better and more effective for patients. If you’d like additional information about treatments for RA, you can check out guidelines for the treatment of RA that the American College of Rheumatology re-issued in 2015. You can also access this overview on the Arthritis Foundation’s website.