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  • Q&A with Australian Health Practitioners

    What is the treatment for rheumatoid arthritis?

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    Dr Irwin Lim


    Irwin completed his Rheumatology training in 2003. The majority of his time is spent treating inflammatory arthritis and in particular rheumatoid arthritis and the spondyloarthritis. … View Profile

    There are many treatments for rheumatoid arthritis.

    First, many patients are very affected by the pain, stiffness, and joint restriction. It is important to make people feel better to allow them to cope with their daily activities.

    So initially, rheumatologists would use any/some of the following: NSAIDs, Cox2 inhibitors or forms of corticosteroids to achieve symptom control and to reduce the inflammation.

    Importantly, there is a clear window of opportunity with this disease. By that I mean, that the quicker a patient is treated with appropriate medication to control the disturbed immune system and achieve remission or a low disease activity state, the better patients do in the long term. 

    As such, rheumatologists will start a DMARD (disease-modifying agent) at time of diagnosis. The most common medication used is Methotrexate, given it's overall good safety and effectiveness.

    Please note that rheumatoid arthritis is a serious autoimmune disease, and when not treated appropriately, it leads to damage and destruction of the joints. It also leads to increased death primarily through cardiovascular disease.

    The aim of treatment is reduction of symptoms eg pain and swelling, normalisation of the blood test abnormalities, reducing/avoiding the joint deformity, reducing the long term effects of the disease such as heart attacks. And of course, improving the quality of life.

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