5 Answers About Biologic Treatments for RA

Learn how biologic response modifiers are used to treat autoimmune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis.

Sometimes it is not easy to find a rheumatoid arthritis treatment that works. Some patients with RA may try several treatments before finding one that is effective. Others may find that a treatment that has worked in the past is no longer working as effectively. If conventional DMARDs (disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs) are not controlling inflammation well enough, the next treatment option may be a biologic response modifier. Biologic response modifiers are also referred to as biologic DMARDs or a biologics.

What are biologic DMARDs?

Biologics are medicines manufactured using living cells that are cultured in a laboratory. There are a number of different biologic treatments available. While different biologics work in different ways, the basic idea is that biologics treat autoimmune diseases like RA by suppressing specific processes in the immune system. Since the pain, swelling and damage of RA is caused by an abnormal or misdirected attack by the immune system—in other words, the immune system attacking healthy tissue in the joints and other parts of the body—suppressing the immune response can reduce symptoms, slow disease progression and reduce the damage caused by RA.

How are biologic DMARDs taken?

How a treatment is administered depends on the type of treatment being prescribed. Some biologics for RA are given by an infusion, and require a patient to visit a clinic or doctor’s office to receive treatment. Others are given as an injection, and can be self-administered at home. Different treatments will vary in dosing schedules, and may be taken once every few days or once every few weeks.

Who should take biologics?

Biologics are not often used as a first line treatment for RA. They are typically prescribed after other treatments haven’t been able to control symptoms or slow disease progression. Because biologic DMARDs work by suppressing the immune system, they can make patients more vulnerable to infections.

Are biologics taken with other treatments?

Biologics are often used in combination with other treatments for RA, especially non-biologics. However, biologics are not typically used in combination with other biologics, which would put a person at too great a risk of infection. Even when a person is taking medication for RA, management of the condition should include exercise and physical therapy, nutrition and taking steps to reduce bone loss, all of which should be discussed with your healthcare provider.

Are biologics used to treat other conditions?

In addition to being used in the treatment of RA, biologics are used treat a number of other inflammatory and autoimmune conditions, including psoriasis, Crohn's disease and ankylosing spondylitis.

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