Person's selfie showing moon face; prednisone, puffy face, pills, medication complications, self-esteem. Female, white, adult.

The Medication Side Effect Dance of Rheumatoid Arthritis

Here I am again. Feeling the effects of my body trying to adjust to a medication, and it’s not fun. I’m reminding myself that my bad mood is just temporary, my sour stomach will go away, and my “flu” symptoms are my body’s way of helping me to adjust to this foreign substance.

Finally, I remind myself of how much I’ve been flaring and that the medication is the best way solution to stop my continuing pain and inflammation.

How long will these side effects last?

Right now, I’m handling a short-term infusion reaction that, for the medical experts, is the cost of doing business. These symptoms will go away as my body processes the infusion I just received. Once it begins to work for me, I’ll be back on my feet and, luckily, the bad memories of my side effects will fade until the next time.

But, what if it’s worse the next time? What if this is the beginning of the long, slow, painful creep of side effects that will make me suffer until I have to make the hard decision to look at another option? I’ve been down this road too many times, and I always dread the conversations that I have with my rheumatologist about this topic.

Doctors look at side effects differently than I do

From past experience, I know that rheumatologists will look at the situation differently than I do. When they look at the balance scale with side effects on one side and medication benefits on the other, they focus more on the benefit side.

For my doctor, paramount in his/her mind is joint damage. And, if the numbers look good, he/she will be happy because that means my disease progression has slowed. For me, living every day with a side effect, I have to consider quality-of-life. If I’m itching so badly that I have to sleep with ice packs, I’m going to wonder how much more of this I can take.

We both have my best interests at heart

Both of us have my best interests at heart, and both of us are looking at things the right way, which is why the conversations are hard. Ultimately, it’s my body and my choice, and I’ve had to stand up to many a doctor in order to help them understand my point of view. But, it’s always an agonizing choice because, as we all know, there are limited options. And, once we stop a medication, finding another one that works is often a process.

I’m at the point where I’m running out of options. So, I’m trying medications I’ve used before, seeing if I can handle them this time around.

I will push through this hard time

So, as I sit here feeling temporarily awful, hoping that it won’t last too long, and hoping that this time my body will handle this medication better this time around, I have to remember not to get ahead of myself. I remind myself that, although I’ve had to suffer from some pretty awful side effects over the course of my life, I’ve also managed to find medications that have helped much more than they hurt.

I know that whatever happens, I will push through to the other side. I know that I’m so lucky to live with JRA now, a time when there are more ideas and more knowledge about how to manage this disease than ever before. And I remember that all of my previous experience with handling side effects and talking to my doctors will serve me well going forward.

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