New treatments are giving hope to RA sufferers. Watch a video about these cutting-edge technologies.
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Dr. Dean Edell: It's crippling, debilitating and at it's worst the first thing in the morning. More than two million Americans suffer from rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease that attacks the joints. No one really knows what causes rheumatoid arthritis, but when it strikes, the body is the enemy and the joints become the casualties. Now doctors are redefining their treatment techniques to bring relief within reach. Female Speaker: I couldn't get out of the bed. I knew what hell felt like. Lisa Caswell: I thought that life was no longer worth living if this was the way it was going to be. Dr. Dean Edell: Desperation, despair and depression. All because the body's natural hinges fail to function. Dr. Daniel Furst: Rheumatoid arthritis isn't aching in the joint, it's aching, swelling, pain, redness and decreased function of the joints. Dr. Dean Edell: The disease, simply known as RA, can destroy the joints and spread to other parts of the body. Dr. Daniel Furst: It tends to affect women more than men, about three to one. And it tends to affect them sort of in their most productive years, in their thirties and forties. Dr. Daniel Furst: Gloria Baswell was just 32-years-old when RA attacked her joints. Gloria Baswell: Something I used to take thirty minutes to do, took three or four hours. Dr. Dean Edell: Eventually, the disease robbed Gloria of her most sacred duties as a grandma. Gloria Baswell: There were times that when I couldn't even put my arms around him and hug him. Dr. Larry Moreland: Many patients with rheumatoid arthritis are disabled within five years, or significantly alter their lifestyle. Dr. Dean Edell: Over-the-counter drugs stopped working for Gloria and standard arthritis drugs made her sick. At one point, she was up to sixteen medications a day. Gloria Baswell: There's not one single pain reliever, I ever took, and I took some strong ones, that ever touched it. Dr. Dean Edell: Desperate, she tried a new generation of arthritis drugs called biologic response agents. Dr. Caryn Hasselbring: Basically, they are all drugs that are able to prevent progression of the disease and prevent joint damage. Dr. Dean Edell: Biologic agents target a substance produced in the body called Tumor Necrosis Factor, or TNF. Dr. Larry Moreland: TNF is one of the most important players in causing the pain and swelling. Dr. Dean Edell: Like a smart bomb, the drug hones in on TNF and blocks it from developing. Dr. W. Hayes Wilson: When you get rid of TNF, you greatly decrease inflammation. Dr. Dean Edell: Once considered a last resort drug, biological agents are now benefiting more patients in early stages of the disease. Dr. W. Hayes Wilson: These medicine have literally gotten people out of a wheelchair and walking. Dr. Dean Edell: It's helped Gloria enjoy simple pleasures that were once out of reach. Gloria Baswell: We play and we dance and we have a good time. Dr. Dean Edell: But for some patients, medication is no match with their advanced disease, Lisa Caswell is one. Lisa Caswell: At one point, I wanted to give up. Dr. Dean Edell: Lisa was only 33 when RA began ravaging her joints. Lisa Caswell: It was not throbbing, it was just short pain, like someone just had a knife going into my joint. Dr. Dean Edell: Her disease spread so quickly that she has had several joint surgeries to repair the damage. Lisa Caswell: And then I had replacement joints put in here and here. Dr. Dean Edell: For young patients like her, traditional finger joint replacements made of silicon can wear out. Dr. Kathleen Robertson: You are using your fingers and your joints all day long, so you have to think that the wear or the breakdown of the polyethylene spacer maybe higher, maybe faster. Dr. Dean Edell: But a new implant offers patients a more durable option. It's made of the same material used in heart valve replacements. Dr. Kathleen Robertson: We know that after your heart beats, many, many millions a times a year, that those valves ha