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RA Patients See Big Boost in Quality of Life

Dutch study found substantial drops in anxiety, depression and disability over 2 decades

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Why? The team suggested that at least some of the quality-of-life boost seen among rheumatoid arthritis patients could be attributed to an overall plummet in disease activity -- and ultimately physical disabilities -- during the study period. This, they said, was a result of overall improvements in treatment strategies.

But investigators also pointed out that while overall quality of life has gotten markedly better over the years, patient psychological "distress" has not dissipated as much as the onset of physical disabilities. And this, they warned, argues against drawing any clear cause-and-effect conclusions based on the current analysis.

That said, "pharmacological [drug] treatment has improved a lot," Overman noted. "[And] treatment has become more intense. To keep inflammation and disease progression to a minimum, patients start medication as soon as possible, are monitored more frequently and medications are combined for optimal efficacy. Furthermore, effective new anti-inflammatory drugs have become available, such as the biologic agents."

She added that non-medication treatments -- including exercise therapy and a form of counseling known as cognitive behavioral therapy -- have also been shown to help.

The bottom line, Overman said, is: "Today, [rheumatoid arthritis] patients have a better opportunity of living a valued life than patients diagnosed with this autoimmune disease two decades ago."

Dr. John Hardin -- vice president for research at the Arthritis Foundation, and a professor of medicine at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City -- wholeheartedly agreed.

"Today we have a whole new series of drugs that have changed the face of the disease," he said. "All very good drugs. So the challenge now is to find the right drug for the right patient."

Hardin said his foundation is focused on helping to develop tools and techniques that show beforehand which drug is best for which patient, to better tailor treatments.

"And I'm very optimistic going forward," he added, "given the new powers of biomedical research, and genetics. I think we have every reason to believe that even better treatments will continue to come along, and we'll know better and better just how to apply those treatments."

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