Since medical science keeps advancing, rheumatoid arthritis treatments get more and more effective every passing year. Enter biologics, aka biologic response modifiers; a class of drugs that behave as cellular proteins in your system and only target the problem instead of the whole immune system.
Even biologics are not a cure for the condition, they work much better than older antirheumatic drugs, so people with rheumatoid arthritis who have had no luck with any treatments yet often find relief with biologic response modifiers. Biologics also come with fewer side effects than older antirheumatic drugs and dramatically slow down the advancement of rheumatoid arthritis.
There are a number of approved biologics available, including but not limited to:
- tocilizumab (Actemra)
- certolizumab (Cimzia)
- abatacept (Orencia)
- adalimumab (Humira)
- anakinra (Kineret)
- rituximab (Rituxan)
- golimumab (Simponi)
- tofacitinib (Xeljanz)
Most of these medications take effect very fast, whereas some may take up to a few weeks or months to start working because each individual’s response the drugs differs. Even though some patients go only on biologics, some people with rheumatoid arthritis go on treatment plans that are a combination of both older antirheumatic medicines and biologics.
How Do Biologics Work?
Biologics are taken intravenously. The only biologic drug that also comes in pill form is tofacitinib. Biologics suspend the immune system process that damages the joint tissues. Most of these new medications target a protein referred to as TNF, also known as tumor necrosis factor. Just as older antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), biologics improve the function of the immune system.
Biologics Side Effects
Biologics are a better option for more individuals with RA because these drugs target specific areas without impacting the whole immune system to alleviate joint inflammation. Furthermore, biologics have fewer side effects than older DMARDs. However, since these medications still affect the immune system, they still have some side effects, including:
- liver damage
- critical infections (e.g. lung infections)
- lowered ability to produce new blood cells
- swelling at injection spots
You should consult your doctor if you experience any symptoms that are not associated with biologics, like a fever. It is important to note that biologics may produce a latent infection to active themselves, so doctors recommend a tuberculosis test prior to going on these drugs. Biologics may also not be a good option for those who have a liver condition, so discuss your unique situation with your physician.
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