Switching Rheumatoid Arthritis Medication: A Guide to Help Others Understand What That Means & How They Can Help
Last updated: November 2021
In July 2021, I had to do something that is unfortunately very familiar to me.
I had to say goodbye to a medication, Rinvoq, that I used to treat my rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
Adverse effects on my liver
I had been on this medication for over a year. It really helped me a lot. However, bloodwork revealed that my liver was being adversely affected. This is a known side effect of this medication.
Honestly, I really did not want to come off the medication because the medicine was effective. It can be difficult to find a medication that works for you, so coming off of one that is working is extremely hard mentally.
Impending medication changes
I was talking to a friend and I was upset and feeling quite beat up. I’m a pretty positive person. However, in this situation, my friend could just tell something was wrong.
I’ve known this friend for about a year. So, honestly, she had only known me while I was on the medication that was effective.
During one of our conversations, I told her that I have to switch my RA medication. She said to me, "I don’t know what that means."
So, this article is for all of our friends, co-workers, and family members who might not know what it means when we switch RA medications.
2 reasons why someone may switch RA medications
Typically, from my experience, there are 2 reasons why I have had to switch RA medications.
1. The medication is not effective. Unfortunately, treating RA with medications can be tricky. Everyone’s body systems are different, so please know there is a trial-and-error process to find the right medication. It can take time.
2. Side effects and adverse reactions. Side effects and adverse reactions can happen with any food, medication, or substance we place on our bodies. Unfortunately, these side effects and/or adverse reactions can occur right away or even several months into taking any type of medication.
5 ways switching medications can affect a person
1. The insurance approval period. This is a stressful period of time that can take days to several weeks. It is a period of such uncertainty. Just because a doctor medically recommends the drug, it does not mean insurance will cover the drug. It's stressful!!!
2. The in-between time. This is a period of time when a person is potentially off of a medication that treats the disease process while awaiting insurance approval for new medication. At that time, doctors often use other drugs such as steroids to help control inflammation and swelling until a new medication is approved. However, as with any medication, there are positive and negative effects that can occur with steroid use.
3. Difficulty performing everyday activities of living. This period of time, for me, is the scariest. Through my experiences, I found that I often have a hard time taking care of myself - showering, preparing meals, driving, doing laundry, performing work activities, etc.
4. Levels of fatigue, physical, mental exhaustion, and feeling depressed can be high.
5. A period of uncertainty. During this time, a person with RA is not sure if the new medication will be effective for their system. Medications to treat RA can take up to 3 months before we see their full potential, so please understand it is not always a fast process.
6 ways you can help during a medication switch
1. Listen and support. Sometimes, we just need to verbalize what we are going through and know we are not alone.
2. Prepare a meal or send meal service delivery. This is such a thoughtful way to let someone know that you care. It’s also a good way to ensure that someone is eating. Meal prep is difficult during these times.
3. Send a care package. This could be something like a book or even a nice pair of lavender aromatherapy socks. There's room to be creative and it doesn’t have to break the bank.
4. Rides or help with transportation. Offer to drive the person to medical appointments they might have. If you can’t drive, you can pre-pay for someone’s Uber or drive share ride.
5. Have a watch party. Watch a movie with someone through the watch party features offered through streaming companies. It’s just fun!
6. Reach out. It gets lonely. Getting a text, receiving a phone call, or even receiving a card, have always been so appreciated during RA medication switches. These periods of time can be very socially isolating.
Did you know rheumatologist Dr. Donica Baker is answering community questions?
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