I realized recently that a lot of people don’t know a lot about medication for arthritis, which makes sense since unless you know someone with either you probably wouldn’t hear about either. But since 50 million Americans have arthritis, I think that there are a lot of people who just aren’t talking about them. And that’s fine. There are a lot of people who aren’t comfortable talking about that publicly.
1. First and foremost, lifestyle changes are a huge way to manage arthritis. Regular exercise, dietary changes, yoga, a lot of sleep, and more are important parts of living with it. If you are a patient, make sure you are incorporating lifestyle managements into your regimen (however, I am not a medical professional and am not the one to tell you what specifically to do). If you are someone who knows a patient, understand that for many people lifestyle changes are not enough. So don’t hate – publicly or internally – on people whose disease is not managed by these and need to include medication. For most people, it’s a combination of the two that makes a difference.
2. Inflammatory arthritis like rheumatoid and psoriatic is an autoimmune disease. This means that the immune system attacks the body. Many medications then suppress the immune system, which causes patients to be more susceptible to viruses and bacteria. And if you do get sick, you have to stop taking the medication.
3. Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) are the primary treatment for inflammatory arthritis. This can range from pills to injections, and sometimes includes chemotherapy.
4. DMARDs are the primary treatment because they actually slow/stall/help the disease. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen help pain and stiffness but don’t actually do anything for the disease as a whole.
5. While some medications are pills taken daily or weekly, others are injections or infusions. The patient can inject themselves with the medication – depending on the medication, either with a needle similar to an EpiPen or with one similar to an insulin injection – or see a nurse trained in giving injections. With an infusion, the patient goes to a hospital or infusion center. An IV is inserted and medications go straight to the bloodstream. It can mean 1-7 hours in the hospital and 1-5 days of recovery at home, depending on which medication you receive.
6. The medications can have a lot of unfun side effects. Nausea, fatigue, weight gain, moodiness, and more are all possible. When I was on a weekly injection dose of methotrexate, I felt like I had the flu for one day a week every week.
7. Arthritis patients are often placed on steroids. They are used to help deal with flares and to help the patient make it through a difficult time. For example, I receive steroids into my IV before I have my infusion because it makes the pain a bit better. And then I crash a few days later and it is miserable. Steroids are also a big player in the side effect game. Several spoonies online call predisone “the pred monster.”
This all being said, do you have any questions about arthritis and medications? I’m not a trained professional, but I’ve been on a large number of medications over the past 4 years and can try to answer any questions that a non-patient might have. As long as you’re not rude, no judgment!
I posted this as a (belated) part of Medication Awareness Month.