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If Your Biologic for RA Fails: What Next?

New biologic drugs that target the underlying cause of rheumatoid arthritis symptoms have helped many people with RA. But what happens if you try a biologic and it doesn’t work?

It's not uncommon to try more than one biologic before finding one that helps your RA significantly. Fortunately, there are several biologic drugs to choose from. If one doesn’t work, chances are good another will. According to the Arthritis Foundation, most people eventually find a biologic that helps them, although the degree of relief varies. Some people feel partial relief, while others go into remission and are symptom-free.

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What to Expect From a Biologic for RA

There are several types of biologic drugs for RA, and each targets a different part of the inflammation process.

In most cases, you should notice some relief of symptoms within four to six weeks of starting a biologic to treat rheumatoid arthritis. During this time, your doctor will probably prescribe faster-acting medications to help ease symptoms.

If your symptoms don’t improve significantly after a few months, your doctor will probably prescribe another type of biologic drug. Timely treatment is important to slow or stop the progression of RA, so doctors don't want you to spend too much time on a drug that isn't working well for you.

Although biologics are effective for many people with RA, these drugs don’t work the same for everyone. Some people get total relief from RA symptoms, while others only get partial relief. 

Experts don’t know why some people benefit more than others. But they do know this: People who are treated in the earlier stages of RA tend to get more relief than those who have had RA for many years. Biologics are also most effective if you take them on a regular schedule. If side effects prevent you from taking your biologics regularly, talk with your doctor about your options. If finances are a concern, your doctor may be able to point you towards a program aimed at helping people with RA pay for their medications.

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