Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic disease affecting 2.1 million Americans. At this time, there is no cure, although a small percentage of people do get better on their own. Most treatments are targeted at managing symptoms and preventing further joint damage. A big part of dealing with the disease is learning to accept and live with the condition.
Current Treatment Options
At the moment, there are many different treatment options available to help manage the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. Most of these are geared at limiting inflammation. Physicians also prescribe anti-inflammatories, disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs, and immune-suppressants. They all help alleviate symptoms to different degrees in different people. Most of them must be used continuously for the rest of the patient's life, and all have side-effects.
New Directions in Research
Current treatments are not entirely satisfactory. Many of the medicines on the market can do much to control symptoms, albeit with many undesirable side-effects, but there is not, yet, a cure. New research offers promise for the future though. Can Botox Alleviate Arthritis Pain? A few studies have found that Botox, if injected directly into the joint, can help reduce pain and improve function. The active ingredient in Botox is botulinum toxin, a neurotoxin that causes paralysis. Scientists theorize that this toxin also blocks pain signals from reaching the brain. The research is very promising, but it is still in the preliminary stages of investigation.
Several new drugs are currently under investigation.
- Drugs that prevent proteins and protein signals linked to inflammation. Proteins are involved both in signaling for cells to initiate an inflammatory response and in expressing that response. Of these, tumor necrosis-factor-alpha (TNF-alpha) is receiving most of the attention. Scientist hope that by manipulating these proteins, they can stop inflammation in its tracks.
- Drugs that reduce the number of inflammation-causing B-cells. B-cells are a type of white blood cells implicated in joint inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis. By reducing the number of B-cells, researchers hope to reduce the inflammation.
- Statins. Statins are drugs used to lower cholesterol. Some preliminary research indicates that they may also reduce inflammation.
- Immune-suppressants. Rheumatoid arthritis is an auto-immune disorder. Some doctors think that the immune-suppressants currently being used to treat transplant patients could be beneficial to people suffering from rheumatoid arthritis.
- Drugs that reduce bone loss. Drugs that have been used to treat bone cancers may soon be approved for use in rheumatoid arthritis patients. The goal would be to stop the damage to the bones that many people with this disease suffer from.
Possible Treatment Window?
New research suggests that there may be a treatment window in the very early stages of rheumatoid arthritis when aggressive treatment may prevent the disease from progressing into a chronic condition. Scientists have found differences in the cytokines (one of the body's families of signaling compounds, involved primarily in the immune response) of patients in the early and later stages of the disease. This indicates that there may be a window of opportunity when the appropriate treatment might halt the disease in its tracks. It has long been theorized that the initial onset of the disease might be prompted by an infection. Building on this, there is some, largely contradictory, evidence that suggests that antibiotics, applied at this early stage, may serve to stop the progression of the disease.
Researchers have successfully used gene therapy to modify interleukin-13 cytokines. In rats, this therapy can be used to prevent and cure rheumatoid arthritis. The research is still a long way from being applicable in humans, but the future is bright.
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