Thank You, Biologics!

The first time my doctor mentioned trying a biologic medication, I have to admit I was pretty hesitant. The biologic he wanted me to try was given via infusion, and it was a bit scary to think about sitting in a hospital infusion center next to people getting chemotherapy for cancer – was I really so sick at only 25 years old? The list of risks and potential side effects was also pretty alarming. And when I found out how much my co-pay would be I nearly fell on the floor. On the other hand, I had been taking prednisone and methotrexate for months and months without success, and I was falling behind in my law school classes. I wanted so badly for the pain to stop – or even just ease a little bit – so I could get back to living my life.

Getting used to the needle

Today, getting an infusion or stabbing myself with a needle seems perfectly ordinary, and I honestly couldn’t imagine my life without the benefit of biologic medications. But my initial reaction to taking this step in treating my RA was not an unusual one. I’ve spoken to countless patients living with RA who also feel reluctant or nervous about trying a biologic for the first time. So, after nearly ten years of experience with these medications, I want to share the impact biologic medications have had on my life.

How do biologics function

Biologic medications function differently from other medications used to treat RA. Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), like plaquenil or methotrexate, try to slow the progression of RA by generally suppressing your immune system to get it to stop attacking your joints. Biologics are a more targeted approach, designed to inhibit specific components of your immune system that play pivotal roles in causing inflammation. They are often used in combination with traditional DMARDs, and since their introduction they have revolutionized the treatment of RA.

Before biologics

Prior to taking my first biologic medication, my RA was very severe. I had pain in virtually every joint in my body and I was completely exhausted no matter how much I slept. My knees were so swollen and painful that I could hardly stand or walk. Everyday tasks – getting out of bed, brushing my teeth, cooking a meal – felt nearly impossible. I thought about everything I wanted to do with the rest of my life – graduate, get married, start a family, start a career – and I was absolutely terrified about how my diagnosis would affect my future.

After biologics

Since I started taking a biologic medication, I’ve graduated with a law degree and a masters in environmental policy. While RA has forced me to make some difficult choices concerning my career, I’ve just finished co-authoring a textbook on international environmental law.

I’ve traveled to Australia and lived for a month in a campervan – with my biologic medication carefully on ice the whole time. I got engaged on that trip, and I did worry about the impact RA might have on my wedding day. Shortly after being diagnosed I remember reading an article that said “sometimes having arthritis means sitting on the sidelines while others dance at a wedding,” and I remember thinking: what if it’s my wedding? But with the help of my biologic medication I was able to dance my wedding night away.

Using a biologic medication to control my RA was also essential for keeping my pain in check so I could get pregnant and start my family. I even relied on the help of a biologic medication to manage a terrible flare during my second pregnancy. Now that I’m a mom of two highly energetic little boys under the age of 5, I depend on my biologic medication daily to keep up with my kids!

And while my inner athlete was missing from my life for so many years after my diagnosis, last year I was able to ride my bike in the Arthritis Foundation’s California Coast Classic. The ride, which is a fundraiser to send kids living with juvenile arthritis to camp, goes from San Francisco to Los Angeles – and I rode every mile of the first 400 miles, which never would have been possible without a working biologic medication.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that biologic medications have given me my life back. These medications turned a life-altering diagnosis into a challenge to be conquered, rather than the end of the world. Biologics have allowed me to reach important goals and continue pursuing my dreams. So I want to offer my sincere gratitude that I’ve had access to these innovative medications. And while I can completely understand feeling uncertain about biologics, I hope my experience shows what a positive impact the right biologic medication can have.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The RheumatoidArthritis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

View Comments (5)
  • cathylsmps
    1 year ago

    I have been diagnosed with RA In 2014. I am sure I had it before they actually diagnosed me. I was 51 yrs old.
    I am still zeronegative , RA started in my right knee. After surgery on the right knee before I knew I had RA. , about a month later my left knee which I had no issues. Started to swell and in no time was worse than the Right knee.
    After that is when they said you have RA.
    I was clueless what this means. They don’t give you much information at the Drs office. I went from walking to hardly walking. I read everything I could find. And after I changed my diet I was a lot better. I didn’t have to use my cane.
    My problems with using the infusions and other RA meds. Is I also suffer from anxiety and panic attacks. Those don’t mix well with RA meds that can cause upper respiratory issues and breathing problems.
    So I feel pretty lost. I need to treat my RA but everything has side effects for lung issues and upper respiratory problems. I am so prone to those ear infections, bronchitis, colds even without taking anything. I now am having stomach issues so all pills were taken from me.
    At this point I don’t know which way to go.
    I wish I could gain my life back. Because I have so much more I would like to do. And it totally sucks to feel like life is passing me by.
    I am happy for everyone who has found a med that works. Hopefully we all can find a med that works!!!
    Anyone have any helpful tips or ideas for me. I know there are others who have had it longer and I would love any help you might be able to offer me.
    God bless everyone will this horrible disease

  • Victoria Hamman
    1 year ago

    I am so happy that the biologic medicine is working for you Mariah. I’ve had RA for about 15 years. I had 3 good years with Humira. It started working immediately and I was pain-free for 3 years. I will always be grateful for those 3 years.Then over the course of a few months, Humira simply stopped working for me. My rheumatologist tells me that now it is unlikely that any of the drugs in that class (TNF-inhibitors) with work for me ever again. I stayed off Humira for 6 months than tried it again with no effect whatsoever. I am so curious to hear other people’s experience with these drugs. I’ve talked with both my rheumatologist and my internist and they both say this is a common scenario. I’m a licensed naturopathic dr. so now I’m trying yet another combo of conventional and alternative meds but I ‘ve yet to find anything that comes close to the relief I experienced for those 3 years on Humira. I am curious about other people’s long-term experiences with the biologics.

  • Lawrence 'rick' Phillips
    1 year ago

    I recall that discussion with my first Rheumatologist. He really did not give me a choice. He said you are sick, you will have Methotrexate and after 30 days you will start a biologic. It will give you the best chance of making it in the long run. I will see you in 30 days to see how you are, get this blood work done.

    I was stunned into silence. I have been forever grateful for some time about that conversation. Not at the harsh treatment, but that he was matter of fact and he seemed to know what he was doing. Sheryl and I had a good cry for several minutes in the car and life started once again. I will never forget that conversation.

  • farmlady
    1 year ago

    I’m so sorry your biologic stopped working. My experience with biologics over the past 15 years has been challenging. I first tried Humira but that didn’t work so Enbrel was next, both TNF blockers. The Enbrel did work for 13 years after which I started to flare constantly. I noticed my breathing did improve once the Enbrel was discontinued. Orcencia and Actemra were also tried but my heart would pound and felt as if it were doing gymnastics! I once more tried Humira and it worked but had to discontinue it due to breathing problems. My rheumatologist would like me to try Xeljanz but am concerned about stomach issues as one side effect can be tears in the stomach or intestines and I often experience nausea. I understand your frustrations and can empathize with you. Wishing you success to finding the right medication.

  • mcadwell
    11 months ago

    I’ve had increasing pain for 18 years, seen several rheumatologists, paid a small fortune to medical professionals, and my current rheumy (I’ve had the most progress with him but want to find a rheumy that will actually tell me what I have) won’t dx me with RA but has been treating me for it. (What the what???) I’m seronegative and he says he won’t dx me unless we can do a synovial fluid test. But none of my joints are swollen enough to get enough fluid. sigh

    Anyway, he put me on hydroxychloriquine. It caused eye problems. I stopped taking it.

    I am scared to death of taking ANY RA medication now. What if I don’t even have RA??? Just looking at all the side effects of the meds are f@#!kn’ scary! Blindness, renal failure, liver failure, heart failure, death…! And the costs of these meds – wow.

    I miss “me”. This person I am now is not “me”. I want “me” back! I’m tired of being tired, tired of being afraid, and afraid for my future. I want to slap each and every doctor that has told me the pain is all in my head! (Well, duh, that’s where the pain receptors are.) I want to beat each doctor that has talked down to me, not listened to what I’ve told them, and ignored my x-rays that have shown arthritis! Sheesh, WHY is this so d@mn difficult?!?!?!?

    AND I need some better invectives because the ones I have are not EVEN close to what I want to say!

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