How Biologics Treat Rheumatoid Arthritis
These medications work on your immune system to curb inflammation.
There are different types. They target the causes of joint inflammation and damage in rheumatoid arthritis. Each biologic focuses on one of these things:
T cells. These are a type of white blood cell and part of your immune system. The drug abatacept (Orencia) affects them.
TNF (tumor necrosis factor). Your doctor may call these “anti-TNF” drugs. TNF is a chemical your body makes that causes inflammation. Drugs that help suppress it include adalimumab (Humira), certolizumab (Cimzia), etanercept (Enbrel), golimumab (Simponi), and infliximab (Remicade). Most people take this type of biologic drug first.
IL-1 or IL-6. These are inflammatory chemicals your body makes. Anakinra (Kineret) blocks IL-1. Tocilizumab (Actemra) blocks IL-6.
B cells. These are a type of white blood cell. Rituximab (Rituxan) targets them.
Tame Inflammation and Save Joints
The goal is to control inflammation to ease joint pain and other symptoms, and to slow down or stop joint damage.
Doctors often prescribe biologics if another group of drugs, called DMARDs (disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs), don’t control RA well enough. You can take biologics with other types of RA drugs. Usually, people who take one also take a DMARD. But you can take a biologic by itself.
All biologics have been shown to slow or even stop joint damage from getting worse. Though it may take some time to find the one that works best for you, most people eventually have some improvement in their RA symptoms.
Studies show that these improvements usually last, and that they can help you move better and handle your daily activities.
Because biologic drugs suppress the immune system, you’re more likely to get an infection when you take them. Most cases are mild, like a cold or sinus infection. It’s rare, but there have been life-threatening infections, including tuberculosis. Your doctor will closely watch for serious infections when you take a biologic. She can tell you about the benefits and risks of all your medicines.