RA is a chronic disease that causes pain, stiffness and swelling, primarily in the joints. According to DataMonitor, RA affects approximately 1.8 million people in the U.S. and has no known cause, but unlike OA, RA is not associated with factors such as aging. RA occurs when the body’s immune system malfunctions, attacking healthy tissue and causing inflammation, which leads to pain and swelling in the joints, and may eventually cause permanent joint damage and painful disability. The primary symptoms of RA include progressive immobility and pain, especially in the morning, with long-term sufferers experiencing continual joint destruction for the remainder of their lives. There is no known cure for RA. Once the disease is diagnosed, treatment is prescribed to alleviate symptoms and/or to slow or stop disease progression.
RA treatments include medications, physical therapy, exercise, education and sometimes surgery. Early, aggressive treatment of RA can delay joint destruction. Treatment of RA usually includes multiple drug therapies taken concurrently. Disease modifying antirheumatic drugs, or DMARDs, are the current standard of care for the treatment of RA, in addition to rest, strengthening exercise, and anti-inflammatory drugs. Methotrexate is the most commonly prescribed DMARD for the treatment of RA. Other common agents for the treatment of RA include corticosteroids and biologic agents. Corticosteroids, such as prednisone, effectively reduce joint swelling and inflammation but at high doses are associated with potential for significant long-term adverse side effects, such as osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease and weight gain. Over the last decade, the advent of biologic agents has transformed the treatment of RA. Tumor necrosis factor, or TNF, inhibitors are the primary biologic agents used today to treat RA. Although effective for treatment of RA, these agents are costly and, because they are very potent immunosuppressants, may increase the risk of infection.
RA has the potential to cause serious damage to joints and bones and, as such, physicians typically treat patients aggressively, including with combination therapies to reduce pain and inflammation and to slow the progression of the disease. Recent research sponsored by Mundipharma and conducted by Ipsos MORI involving 750 RA patients from 11 European countries found that 60% of people with RA indicated that pain and stiffness in the morning controls their lives. Additionally, 74% of people with pain and morning stiffness as a result of their RA say that they are either unemployed, retired early or are on sick leave as a result of RA and 58% say they are frustrated emotionally because they find it difficult to do everyday tasks.
An RA patient may take a combination of a DMARD, an oral glucocorticoid, an NSAID and/or a biologic agent. The majority of RA patients are treated with DMARDs. DMARDS, such as methotrexate, are typically used in initial therapy in patients with RA whereas biologic agents are typically added to DMARDs as combination therapy.