Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic, inflammatory arthritis with a population prevalence of approximately 1%. Pharmaceutical treatment includes both anti-inflammatory medications and disease modifying drugs (DMARDs) that impact the course of the damage associated with this disease. Traditional DMARD therapy includes immunomodulatory agents such as methotrexate, used both alone and in combination. Recently available biologic response modifiers are very effective at reducing both the clinical symptoms of disease and the radiographic damage that accompanies them. This manuscript describes the clinical assessments used to measure response to therapy in RA and reviews the results seen with the various treatment strategies in this disease. In addition, the clinical and structural outcomes seen in trials of newly available and pending biologic therapies are reviewed, along with the specific toxicity issues associated with these agents. Clinical trial data is reviewed for the TNF antagonists, which have become the standard of care in RA patients with an inadequate response to methotrexate. RA has been clearly shown to be a destructive and disabling disease. The widespread use of newer agents, however, along with more aggressive use of existing therapies, appears to limit disease progression very effectively, and should lead to better long-term outcomes for these patients.
Keywords: rheumatoid arthritis, dmard, methotrexate, biologic response modifier, tnf antagonist, infliximab, etanercept, adalimumab
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