If you have been diagnosed with the autoimmune disease known as rheumatoid arthritis (RA), you will most likely be forced to deal with the symptoms for the rest of your life.
But that doesn’t mean RA has to dictate how you live your life. Treatments in the form of medications have come a long way due to research and clinical trials, so the good news is that there are more options available than ever before.
Care is often tailored to your individual needs, according to factors that include the severity of your RA, how well specific treatments work for you, any side effects experienced during treatment and your overall health history.
As a result, your doctor may present you with different paths to approach your RA treatment, which could include approved medications or the opportunity to participate in a clinical trial.
Medications are the cornerstone of rheumatoid arthritis treatment. Drugs from several classes of medications may be used to reduce disease activity, decrease or eliminate inflammation and minimize joint pain, stiffness and disability. These include the following drug types:
Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)
These drugs can aid in alleviating pain and inflammation. Some are available over-the-counter, including ibuprofen and naproxen, while other, stronger NSAIDs are available by prescription.
Conventional Disease-Modifying Antirheumatic Drugs (DMARDs)
These medications are generally the first type of drug prescribed to combat the inflammation of RA. They can slow progression of the disease and protect the joints and other tissues in the body from permanent damage caused by RA. Your doctor may try different DMARDs or may use several in combination to reduce disease activity, including inflammation and joint damage.
Biologics–or biologic response modifiers–are a newer, more advanced class of DMARDs, and are typically used as a step up in treatment for patients in whom conventional DMARDs are not providing adequate RA control. They work to reduce specific aspects of immune system function that trigger inflammation.
These drugs may be used alone or in conjunction with conventional DMARDs, and often work more quickly and effectively in reducing disease activity than DMARDs alone. Biologics work by inhibiting some functions of the immune system, so they are not recommended for everyone.
These drugs, often referred to simply as steroids, act quickly to reduce RA-related inflammation and pain. These are often given at low doses and for a short time for the treatment of RA flares.
As with all medications, there are side effects for each of these approaches, which should be fully discussed with and evaluated by your doctor. Additionally, your doctor may recommend other therapies in conjunction with medications to aid in controlling your RA and maintaining or improving your quality of life. These may include occupational therapy, physical therapy, low-impact exercise, nutritional therapy and, if necessary, weight loss.
If you’ve already tried some of these treatments, you might discuss clinical research opportunities with your doctor. Clinical trials are conducted using volunteers to find out if potential new medications and treatments are both safe and effective. Some of the reasons for taking part in a clinical trial include:
- The potential to have access to potential treatments under development
- The opportunity to potentially help others in the future
- Access to study-related care from doctors and/or specialists
- Possible compensation for time and travel
While all clinical trials are strictly monitored, any trial has risks associated with it. These risks are explained in full at the research site, and individuals have the right to information about potential risks as they become known. Signing a document called an “informed consent” is required to take part. In addition, participants can leave trials at any point. If you want to learn more, check out if there are RA clinical trials opportunities available in your area right now and see if you qualify.
In conclusion, the important thing to remember is that in most cases, people living with RA can live full, productive lives. The right treatment may take some trial and error, but as stated above, the treatments available are more abundant than ever. Additionally, researchers are continually searching for better ways to prevent and treat arthritis through clinical trials.