Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic condition that causes joint swelling, stiffness, and pain. There’s no known cure for RA — but there are treatments available to help relieve symptoms, limit joint damage, and promote good overall health.
As scientists continue to develop and improve treatments for RA, your doctor might recommend changes to your treatment plan.
Read on to learn about some of the latest research and newest treatment options for this condition.
Many people with RA use a type of disease-modifying antirheumatic drug (DMARD) known as methotrexate. But in some cases, treatment with methotrexate alone is not enough to control symptoms.
If you’ve been taking methotrexate and you’re still experiencing moderate to severe symptoms of RA, your doctor might recommend adding a janus kinase (JAK) inhibitor to your treatment plan. JAK inhibitors help stop chemical reactions that cause inflammation in your body. Methotrexate does this, too, but in a different way. For some people, JAK inhibitors work more effectively.
To date, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved three types of JAK inhibitors to treat RA:
- tofacitinib (Xeljanz), approved in 2012
- baricitinib (Olumiant), approved in 2018
- upadacitinib (Rinvoq), approved in 2019
Researchers are continuing to study these medications to learn how they compare to each other, and to other treatment options. For example, scientists recently found that a combination of methotrexate and upadacitinib was more effective than methotrexate and adalimumab for reducing pain and improving function in people with RA. More than 1,600 people with RA took part in this study.
Clinical trials are also underway to develop new JAK inhibitors, including an experimental medication known as filgotinib. In a recent phase III clinical trial, filgotinib was found to be more effective than a placebo for treating RA in people who have previously tried one or more DMARDs. More research is needed to study the long-term safety and efficacy of this experimental drug.
To learn more about the potential benefits and risks of taking a JAK inhibitor, talk to your doctor. They can help you learn if this type of medication might be a good choice for you.
Bruton’s tyrosine kinase (BTK) is an enzyme that plays a role in the development of inflammation. To block the action of BTK, researchers have been developing and testing a BTK inhibitor known as fenebrutinib.
Early studies suggest that fenebrutinib may provide another treatment option for RA. An international group of researchers recently completed a phase II clinical trial to study the safety and efficacy of fenebrutinib for treating this condition. They found that fenebrutinib was acceptably safe and modestly effective.
The study found that when combined with methotrexate, fenebrutinib was more effective than a placebo for treating symptoms of RA. Fenebrutinib had similar efficacy rates as adalimumab.
More research is needed to study the safety and efficacy of fenebrutinib.
Some people try multiple medications to treat RA, without success.
As an alternative to medications, researchers are studying the potential benefits and risks of vagus nerve stimulation for treating RA. In this treatment approach, electrical impulses are used to stimulate the vagus nerve. This nerve helps regulate inflammation in your body.
Scientists recently conducted the first in-human pilot study of vagus nerve stimulation for treating RA. They implanted a small neurostimulator or a sham device in 14 people with RA. Six of those people were treated with vagus nerve stimulation once a day for 12 weeks.
Among participants who received daily vagus nerve stimulation, four out of six participants experienced improvements in RA symptoms. A few participants experienced adverse events during treatment, but none of the reported events were serious or permanent.
In addition to taking your prescribed medications, studies suggest that adding an omega-3 supplement to your daily routine might help limit RA symptoms.
Omega-3 fatty acid consumption has been linked to reduced inflammation in the body. When investigators from the University of Houston reviewed the research on omega-3 supplementation, they found 20 clinical trials that focused on RA in particular. In 16 out of 20 trials, omega-3 supplementation was linked to significant improvements in RA symptoms.
Recent observational research has also found a link between omega-3 supplementation and reduced disease activity in people with RA. At the 2019 ACR/ARP Annual Meeting, researchers reported the results of a longitudinal registry study of 1,557 people with RA. Participants who reported taking omega-3 supplements had lower disease activity scores, less swollen joints, and less painful joints on average than those who didn’t take omega-3 supplements.
Certain RA medications may have benefits for your heart, as well as your joints. According to two new studies presented at the 2019 ACR/ARP Annual Meeting, those medications include methotrexate and hydroxychloroquine.
In one study, investigators followed 2,168 veterans with RA from 2005 to 2015. They found that participants who received treatment with methotrexate were less likely to experience cardiovascular events, such as heart attack or stroke. Participants who received methotrexate were also less likely to be hospitalized for heart failure.
In another study, Canadian researchers analyzed registry data collected from three groups: people with RA, people with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), and healthy controls with neither condition. People with RA or SLE who were treated with hydroxychloroquine had a reduced risk of cardiovascular events, such as heart attack or stroke.
Breakthroughs in medical science can also help researchers optimize existing treatments and develop new treatment approaches for managing RA.
To learn more about the latest treatment options for RA, talk to your doctor. They can help you understand the potential benefits and risks of adjusting your treatment plan. They may also recommend lifestyle changes, such as not smoking or vaping, to help you enjoy the best possible health and quality of life with this condition.