Chemotherapy is most often associated with cancer treatment, but it is also used to treat rheumatoid arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder in which your own body mounts an immune attack on your joints.
According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, this immune response causes inflammation and pain in the joints, particularly in the hands and feet. It can also affect the heart and lungs.
The chemotherapy drugs used to treat rheumatoid arthritis are called disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs. Pain medications like ibuprofen or naproxen patients use to relieve pain and inflammation only treat the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, but DMARDs treat the underlying cause of rheumatoid arthritis by changing the body’s immune response so it will stop attacking the joints, explains Healthgrades.
While chemotherapy is effective for rheumatoid arthritis, symptom relief can take months, and there are many potential side effects. Your physician will monitor your progress and occasionally take a blood sample. You may need to try a few different drugs before finding the best one.
The most common chemotherapy drug used in rheumatoid arthritis treatment is methotrexate.
According to Drugs.com, methotrexate can produce a long list of side effects. Some of the the minor side effects include:
* temporary hair loss
* decreased appetite
* nausea and vomiting
* skin rashes
More severe side effects warrant an immediate consultation with your physician. These severe side effects include, but are not limited to:
* bloody vomit and stool
* joint pain
* mouth sores
* stomach pain
* swelling in the legs
* blurred vision
* fever and chills
* shortness of breath
Two other drugs, Imuran and Cytoxin, are less commonly used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, says WebMD. These drugs can produce more severe, life-threatening side effects than methotrexate.
The American College of Rheumatology recommends that all patients diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis be treated early with chemotherapy because early treatment slows down the damage to joints. People who start treatment early are more likely to keep joints functioning for a longer period of time.
Have you tried chemotherapy for your RA? How did you find it?