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Life With Rheumatoid Arthritis

Aggressive treatment with new, sophisticated drugs can prevent disability.

Newer, Better Drugs for Rheumatoid Arthritis

To protect joints from damage, doctors turn to disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs). These include several drugs used in the 1960s and 1970s to treat other diseases -- and were discovered to also work with rheumatoid arthritis.

For example, methotrexate, a drug that Guillory took early on, was first used as a form of cancer chemotherapy. It's still considered an important medication for slowing RA, although it is prescribed at lower doses than used for cancer treatment, Lindsey explains. "The side effects are more acceptable for methotrexate than with other cancer drugs," he tells WebMD.

Today, DMARDs are prescribed earlier in treatment than ever before, Lindsey says. "The most joint damage and deformity occurs in the first two years and will progress over time, leading to disability. We can prevent that joint damage."

A newer class of drugs -- biological response modifiers, or biologics -- is generating the most excitement. Evidence shows that biologics can actually halt the disease when used early on, he tells WebMD. "Instead of seeing the progressive deterioration and disability, we can now stop disease progression." Biologics approved by the FDA include Actemra, Cimzia, Enbrel, Humira, Kineret, Orencia, Remicade, Rituxan, and Simponi.

Very often, patients are switched to different drugs -- and often take multiple drugs -- during the course of treatment, he points out. "Each patient is different, so we have to follow them really carefully, every month. If they don't improve, we quickly move to a different drug."

Guillory now takes a biologic drug to better control her disease. And it has, she reports. It's also made a huge difference in her quality of life, she tells WebMD. "Before I started taking it, I would be exhausted by midday, ready for a nap. Now I don't have as many days that I'm tired. It's made a tremendous difference."

Optimism Helps With Treatment for Rheumatoid Arthritis

After coping with rheumatoid arthritis for nearly 20 years, Guillory offers these words of wisdom: "Try to be careful in your everyday activities. Don't do anything that will damage your joints. Take medications as you're supposed to. Also, take things day by day. Hold on to positive thoughts."

Indeed, honing your coping skills is important, Lindsey says. "Having a good attitude, taking care of yourself, taking the medicines, getting regular exercise, volunteering to help other people with the disease -- all those things help you feel better about yourself, and that helps you cope."

He advises patients to take advantage of Arthritis Foundation programs, including water therapy classes and educational programs (to learn more about their disease). "You'll get to know others who are dealing with the same disease. You'll learn about volunteer opportunities. Those things take your mind off yourself, which always makes you feel better."

Reviewed on January 05, 2010
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How does RA affect your life?