Thanks to significant advancements in new medications and innovative diagnostic techniques over the last few years, vast improvement in RA outcomes are being seen.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic autoimmune disease that affects the joints, resulting in pain, stiffness, and inflammation. About 1% of the global population is affected by this disease, out of which 1.3 million individuals are living in the United States alone.
Generally, RA is diagnosed between the ages of 40 and 70 and it is far more common among women, who account for over 60% of those affected. If left untreated, it can lead to the rapid deterioration of the joints and the surrounding bone, ultimately giving way to malformation and permanent disability.
Up until a few decades ago, being diagnosed with RA implied being confined to a wheelchair. However, thanks to significant advancements in new medications and innovative diagnostic techniques over the last few years, a vast improvement in outcomes is seen. According to arthritis experts from the Medical University of Vienna, 80% of RA sufferers can now live a “normal” life by means of medical therapy.
Modern science confirms clinical efforts
Most recently, Josef Smolen and Daniel Aletaha from the Medical University of Vienna issued a review on the progress that has been made in the field of rheumatoid arthritis. They found that today, a mere 20% of individuals living with RA are considered ‘refractory’. “Thirty years ago, this figure was 50 percent. Just as new drugs have changed HIV from a lethal disease into a chronic one, new treatments for rheumatoid arthritis mean that although it is still a chronic disease, it no longer causes permanent damage and hardly puts anyone into a wheelchair” said Aletaha.
When it comes to the treatment of RA, the main objective is to reduce the persistency of the active disease by 50% within 12 weeks and to find relief from joint pain and stiffness within 24 weeks. This is where personalized medicine has made all of the difference. It is now possible to identify, in a timely manner, which type of treatment will prove most effective for each individual patient, as well as which types of treatment are less fitting.
An attractive treatment option is small-molecule drugs that are customized to suppress specific molecules inside a cell, thereby increasing the amount of alternative therapies available to healthcare professionals. “The choice of drugs that we now have at our disposal is much bigger than it was about 10 years ago. And this enables us to more accurately predict which treatment will be most suitable, if the standard method no longer works – ideally, personalized to the individual patient. The standard approach is to start treating RA with methotrexate. If the disease breaks through, despite the treatment, its management must be reassessed” concluded Aletaha.
An emerging therapeutic option for refractory patients
Regardless of continual advancements in treatment that result in a majority of individuals with RA achieving remission, there are still those who are coping with the active form of the disease on a frequent basis. These are the individuals who, even after the second or third biological treatment, do not experience any significant improvement in their symptoms.
Now, a new study led by Daniel Aletaha from the Medical University of Vienna, shows that a new drug by the name of sirukumab may be an effective solution for individuals living with RA who are considered ‘refractory’. “Treatment options had been practically exhausted for many of these patients. However, even in this group of patients, treatment with sirukumab brought about a significant reduction in the inflammatory action of the disease” stressed Aletaha. Sirukumab works by preventing the activity of interleukin-6, which is responsible for triggering the inflammatory processes in the joints.
As part of the study, the effectiveness and safety profile of sirukumab was tested in two different dosages – 50mg injection given every 4 weeks and 100mg injection given every 2 weeks. Aletaha found that the 100mg injection proved to be a bit more effective in its mechanism of action. “These results are very significant in the case of a progressive, inflammatory, musculoskeletal disease such as rheumatoid arthritis, especially for those patients who are resistant to treatment” he said. Further research into treatment with this drug could result in more effective treatment options for RA, as well as other forms of arthritis.
A ‘not-so-gloomy’ forecast
Unfortunately, there remains no known cure for RA and it can be rather difficult to complete everyday tasks while living with the disease. Nevertheless, there are approaches to getting things done with less pain and stress, all the while living a normal life:
- Asking for help – While it is good to stay active and independent, there is also no shame in asking for help. Some tasks may prove to be too much for a body suffering from RA to handle on its own.
- Setting realistic goals – There is no need to do everything all at once. This is especially true for those who are more prone to experiencing flare-ups. Setting realistic goals for oneself, such as taking breaks whenever necessary, helps to avoid exhaustion and winding up in pain.
- Setting up a routine – Keeping track of medications and doctors’ appointments can be tricky while living with a chronic disease. For this reason, setting up a routine is something to consider. For instance, taking medication the same time and place every day may be helpful.
- Practicing patience – Learning about living life with a chronic disease can be overwhelming, devastating, and surreal. Some things, or tasks for that matter, that were easy before may become more challenging in the future. This is why it is important to practice patience when it comes to staying both physically and mentally strong.
- Utilizing assistive devices – There are numerous assistive devices and arthritis-friendly tools available. Utilizing them can help in maintaining independence and, as a result, boost quality of life.
- Finding support online – The online community is filled with individuals who are battling the same disease and going through similar emotions and experiences. Finding a credible online support group is a great way to receive accurate and informative resources, as well as to offer support to one another. “It can feel awful to be alone, but there are many others that truly understand what you’re going through. Find them, meet them, and share your story with them” said Seamus Mullen, an award-winning chef living with RA.