What Are the Common Side Effects of Rheumatoid Arthritis Drugs?

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As I always tell my patients when they ask me, you've given me this medicine, what's it going to do to me? And I say, I know what they are asking, but what I say is, well, hopefully it's going to decrease your inflammation, then I say, no, what kind of side effect am I going to have? And I always ask them, when you buy your car, and you ask the sales men what kind of wreck am I going to have, what does he say? And they look at me startled, then I say, well, I don't buy a car to have a wreck, and he said, you shouldn't take a medicine to have a side effect. And just like with the car, there's a 100 different things that can happen, or more that could happen, though the more likely thing is, if you put something in your mouth, then it might upset your stomach, and that's certainly is probably the more common thing that would happen with an oral medicine.

With an injectible medicine, you could have an injection reaction, either at the side, it turns a little red, that happens in about 30% of people in some of the self injectible medicines, or an infusion reaction where sometimes people have, get a rash or bad reaction would even be, where you'd have trouble breathing, and that will have to be treated by a doctor.

That's rare, but it occurs certainly. Now, all of these medications are modulating your immune system, and you know this, I like to say the word modulate, nobody ever took a blood pressure suppressor. If somebody has high blood pressure, they'd take a blood pressure medicine to lower their blood pressure.

When we give medicines for arthritis, what we're trying to do is, I say modulate, we're trying to turn back or turn down the immune system, because it's your immune system attacking you, it's attacking your joints, and we do not want it to attack your joints. However, there's a consequence to that, just like if you took insulin for diabetes, your blood sugar could go too low. If you take a high blood pressure medicine for blood pressure, your blood pressure could go too low , and the same is true about the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis.

So the things that are common or commonly said about common side effects or respiratory track infection, diarrhea those sort of things, they are very common and we never know of its cause and effect, but they're more likely in people that we're dialling back their immune system, they are just more likely to have an infection.

And that brings up an important point, and that is, if you are on a medicine for arthritis that is decreasing your immune response and you get a bad infection, then you should stop the medicine and treat the infection. And people say, well, how do I know if it's a bad infection? I say, if it's a sniffle and you're taking over the counter medicine, it's probably OK to keep doing your medicine, taking your arthritis medicine, but if you have to go see a doctor and he puts you on an antibiotic,

you need to stop your disease-modifying antirheumatic drug or your biologic, until you get over that infection. It's really pretty simple.