Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease where the body’s immune system attacks its own tissues. Rheumatoid arthritis can affect anyone at any age, and may cause significant pain and disability.
2% of Australians reported having rheumatoid arthritis in 2014–15. That’s approximately 407,900 people
18% of people with rheumatoid arthritis reported poor health, compared with 3.9% of people without the condition
72% rise in hospitalisations for people with rheumatoid arthritis from 2005–06 to 2015–16
Treatment for rheumatoid arthritis has improved dramatically over the past 20 years. New medicines are effective in managing the disease, particularly in the early stages.
Paracetamol, codeine, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are sometimes called the 'first-line' medicines in management of rheumatoid arthritis, as these are the initial medicines provided for symptom relief .
Stronger medications such as corticosteroids, disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) and biologic disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (bDMARDs) may be prescribed when insufficient symptom control is obtained from first-line medicines. Corticosteroids and DMARDs are typically prescribed and monitored by specialist rheumatologists and require close medical monitoring to ensure effectiveness and to minimise side effects. Evidence suggests initiation of aggressive treatment with DMARDs within 12 weeks of symptom onset is associated with less joint destruction and a higher chance of achieving DMARD-free remission as compared with a longer delay in assessment .
bDMARDs are specialised immunosuppressant medications that have been shown to halt or slow the disease process sufficiently to reduce the joint destruction and disability associated with early rheumatoid arthritis . bDMARDs are also used for other autoimmune conditions such as juvenile arthritis, psoriatic arthritis and Crohn's disease.
Since 2003, the availability of bDMARDs has broadened treatment options for rheumatoid arthritis, and their use is captured under specific Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) and Repatriation Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (RPBS) codes .
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