What are biologics?
Biologics are drugs that are designed to reduce inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis
(RA) by interfering with steps in the inflammation process. Different types of biologics
for RA target different substances involved in inflammation. For example, some biologic
drugs bind tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-alpha. Others inhibit interleukins (interleukin-1,
interleukin-6). Still others interfere with the action of T cells or B cells. Inflammation
is the primary cause of painful symptoms and joint damage in RA.
How are biologics different from other drugs used to treat RA?
Some drugs are used to relieve symptoms, like pain. Others reduce inflammation. DMARDs (disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs) slow or stop the progression of RA. Biologic DMARDS target specific parts of the immune system that lead to inflammation and joint damage.
How effective are biologic agents used in RA?
Biologics can be helpful when the nonbiologic DMARDs do not work or stop working.
Like all RA therapies, some biologics may work well for one person but not for another.
Also, a biologic may work well for a while and then lose effectiveness. However,
most people can find a treatment that will work for them.
Most biologics increase the risk of serious infections, including tuberculosis
and serious bacterial or fungal infection. These infections may require treatment
in a hospital; in some cases, people have died from these infections. Patients should
be tested for TB before starting biologics and then monitored for TB during treatment.
Biologic treatment should be stopped if the patient develops a serious infection
Can biologics be taken with other drugs for RA?
Some biologics may be used alone but are often given with other nonbiologic RA drugs.
Biologic drugs should not, however, be taken together. Biologics interfere with
the immune system's ability to fight infection, and they also increase the risk
of infection. When biologics are taken together, the risk of infection is greater.
Before starting a biologic drug for RA, tell your doctor about all of your medical
conditions as well as all the medicines you take. Be sure to include prescription
and nonprescription medicines, vitamins, and herbal supplements. You should not
receive live vaccines while taking a biologic drug.
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