According to Medical Xpress, a new study is underway that may change the future for those who have a condition called rheumatoid arthritis. Dr. Hazelwood from Cumming’s School of Medicine has recently been granted funding to study a patient-centered approach to treatment tapering for those with the condition.
What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory disorder that affects the joints, including hands and feet. Symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis can come and go, and rate of disease progression depends on the individual. If and when the disease progresses, however, the condition becomes far more debilitating and affects a lot of daily life activities. For example, it could restrict the ability to grip and climb the stairs. As a result, rheumatoid arthritis could lead to permanent disability. People with the condition may experience symptoms of stiffness, swelling, joint tenderness, fatigue, anemia, and more. There are treatment options available for those with rheumatoid arthritis, including inflammation medication, pain medication, change in diet, and weight management. To read more about the disease, click here.
The Next Advancement in Rheumatoid Arthritis Treatment
The latest discovery in the rheumatoid arthritis field, it turns out, may not be a new treatment, but rather a new approach to treatment.
Though those with the condition typically use medication and treatment for life, some studies and new data shows that some may be able to effectively wean off of treatment after the condition has been under control for a while. This technique, called drug tapering, is what Dr. Glen Hazlewood is now studying.
“When a patient has been doing really well with their treatment, they often ask their rheumatologist, ‘When can I stop or reduce my medication?,” said Hazlewood.
“It’s very rare that people can stop treatment completely, but we think that many may be able to successfully reduce their medications,” she continued.
Now, Dr. Hazlewood and her colleague Dr. Vivian Bykerk have created a trial set for 200 patients who have rheumatoid arthritis and whose conditions have been controlled for a minimum of six months.
Those who wish to participate in the study are then selected into two random groups: those who continue treatment and those who undergo an approach to reduce treatment. These study participants will then be followed closely for 18 months. At the end of these 18 months, researchers will observe and compare.
The study is unique in that it is also an individualized approach that additionally takes into account patient preferences.
“No two patients are the same; they have different experiences with their disease,” explained Hazlewood. “Some may not want to reduce their medications because they don’t want to risk a flare-up. For other patients, the benefits may outweigh the risks.”
These different patient perspectives can lead to competing strong opinions about the drug tapering technique. Dr. Hazlewood interviewed patients to find out what this entailed.
One rheumatoid arthritis patient, Laurie Proulx, is against the thought of tapering her medication. She was diagnosed with juvenile idiopathic arthritis at a young age. Ever since, her life has been filled with surgeries, medications, and doctor’s appointments.
For a long time she was put on a strong cancer medication to control her arthritis. The treatment, while somewhat effective, also caused some uncomfortable side effects like nausea. Even so, the arthritis that was being treated also caused issues with breathing and her cardiovascular system.
“Things weren’t looking so good for me,” Laurie recounts.
When Laurie turned 21, however, she became one of the first Canadians to access the new group of drugs called biologics to treat her arthritis. It made all the difference for Laurie. “For the first time, my disease was under control,” she stated.
As a result, she is not so willing to reduce her treatment.
“Because it took so long to get my disease under control, and because I have a life-threatening complication of the disease (airway issues), I would say that I would not consider it, or proceed with extreme caution,” she concluded.
Dawn’s Competing Opinion
Another rheumatoid arthritis patient, Dawn Richards, has a different idea on the topic.
“As a person who has lived with rheumatoid arthritis for over a decade, I can tell you that the one thing a patient wishes for on a daily basis is simply to no longer be a patient,” she stated.
Richards believes that patients should be able to take control of their condition and their treatment options. After discussing with her rheumatologist, Richards herself has already decided to take a significantly smaller amount of medication.
“I now have one to two days per week that I call my RA ‘drug holidays.’ These are days that are blissfully medication free,” said Richards. “It’s as close to not having arthritis as I will ever be.”
At the end of the four year study, not only with researchers have more insight to the condition and the effectiveness of treatment, but hopefully those who have the condition will also be empowered to make more individualized decisions about their own treatment.
To learn more about the study, click here.