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The Evolution of RA Treatments

Recently I realized that my story as a patient mirrors the evolution of rheumatoid arthritis treatments! As a small child I started with basic Tylenol and now I am taking the newest class of drugs called biologics.

When I was diagnosed as a toddler the doctor had my mom squirt liquid Tylenol into my mouth so that I would swallow the medicine. However, soon I needed a higher dose in the form of a pill and my mother was trying to coax me into taking it every day. While I first enjoyed the novelty, she soon discovered that I hated the taste and would try to spit it up.

Things didn’t get much better with my medication habits as I grew and my RA continued to aggressively attack my body. I was taking plaquinel and tolectin plus steroids. And while I was starting to learn the importance of taking these medications for my illness, I so despised the taste and the strictness of the regimen that I would hide the pills in my chair cushion. But my clever mother found me out, so my secret stash and my treachery were revealed!

After a while the doctor decided the medications were not working. The cutting-edge treatment at the time was gold shots. Literally, injections of gold in my behind. And boy did it hurt. It wasn’t even fast, but slow – over the course of a minute or longer because the gold solution was thick. We had to drive an hour to the doctor’s office for each shot and the frequency was high at first, tapering off in time.

When a pill form became available, I soon was taking gold pills. Then a variety of NSAIDS. First there was oral Naprosyn, which to me tasted exactly like vomit. I could not believe these pharmacists could concoct a medication that resembled throw-up so perfectly! But now that I was a little older, I had to take the drug and be responsible for my treatment. As much as I wanted to hide or toss the disgusting medicine, it was an important part of my daily life.

When Naprosyn became available in a pill, I danced for joy. No more drinking vomit! But unfortunately the drugs were not hugely effective and my disease progressed.

For some time in my early 20s, the RA became a little quieter and I got along with a daily NSAID. But when the disease came roaring back, it was time to try methotrexate. We had considered it in my teen years, but worried about the serious risks and side effects. Instead, I had hip and knee joint replacements.

Taking it as an adult, although my disease had progressed, the methotrexate really curtailed the ongoing inflammation and brought a new level of stability to the RA. Unfortunately, I also experienced problems with becoming immunosuppressed (such as shingles and other illnesses). While the drug helped, it soon became apparent that I had a tolerance threshold for my liver and that another drug was needed to help.

Now I have been on a biologic for about three years and experienced some positive results with slowing my RA and decreasing my inflammation. It may be time to mix up my treatment again, but that is a story for another day.

What is powerful to me about recounting this progression of treatments is understanding how far we have come in developments and options. Sure, no treatment is perfect nor one size fits all. But we have a few tools to fight RA.

I look forward to watching the evolution of RA treatments continue as we further our understanding of the disease and related autoimmune conditions. Let the evolution continue!

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


  • rockcandi
    2 years ago

    Oh those vinyl chairs! A decorating choice that hung around way too long! Gave us a great place to hide those yucky meds like you said lol! Sometimes I still wish I had a place to hide yucky meds except now it’s Methotrexate and it’s bc the shots make me feel yucky. Glad I don’t have to take those for now. Hope and pray I don’t have to try them again anytime soon!

  • rockcandi
    2 years ago

    I laughed out loud when I read about you hiding your pills in your chair and your mom finding you out. I had the EXACT same thing happen except mine was aspirin when I was 6 yo. I had to take it 3 times a day, breakfast lunch and supper. The lunch dose I took at school and I couldn’t hide those. Once I started taking them at school I had to chew them up. My mom continued for a bit to dissolve my doses at home in water in a spoon but I had a brilliant idea! I told her she could just hand them to me and I’d chew them up. Looking at me like “How can you stand that” she asked “Are you sure?” To which the reply “Yep, Mama I do that at school.” She’d hand them to me and head back to the kitchen, I’d wait until she wasn’t looking and push them into the seat of my vinyl chair through a small hole on the top/side in the vinyl. Apparently after several weeks I’d, unnoticed by me as I always kept my eyes on her as I did it, I’d made the hole slightly bigger and bigger. One day while at school I was called to the principals office to see my mom waiting to pick me up. When I got close enough to her she said “Guess what I found today? I was wiping off the chairs at the dining room table and I notice a hole in yours. I thought I saw something strange inside and when I pulled the vinyl back lookie there! The whole chair is covered in aspirin! Candice Nichole how long have you been hiding your pills?!” Then I had to leave school to go to the hospital where I was lectured also by my doctor and given an anti-inflammatory shot in my arm. I don’t know the purpose of putting it on the underside of my forearm but the pain was so excruciating I NEVER hid my pills again!

  • Kelly Mack moderator author
    2 years ago

    LOL! Love your story! What is it with old kitchens and vinyl chairs? Obviously, according to us they are perfect for hiding pills! Ha ha! Children are sneaky, aren’t they! They are smart enough to know they don’t want to take yucky medicine and will go to extremes to avoid it! Thanks so much for sharing and commiserating. 🙂 Best, Kelly

  • mcadwell
    1 year ago

    My brother had cystic fibrosis and hated taking his pills as well. My mother would hand him the pills and a glass of water. He’d put them in his mouth, take a swallow of water and walk away. I remember her yelling when she found his expensive pills hidden somewhere – don’t remember where, this was decades ago.

    I do remember her asking him where else he’d hidden his (wet) pills and she found them stuck to the underside of the couch cushions, behind the console tv and the piano, between the trash can and trash bag, between his mattress and box spring, etc.

    Everytime she found another stash she’d yell! lol

    Afterwards, when he took his pills he had to open his mouth and lift his tongue before he was allowed to go.

  • Lawrence 'rick' Phillips moderator
    3 years ago

    I very often look back on things in diabetes treatment. Well really RA treatments as well but since I have been at diabetes for 42+ years I have a bit more history. The thing I recognize about the history of either condition is how far we have come and how close we thought we were along the way.

    I enjoyed your recounting of your path. My 16 years with RA has been littered with tried and failed biologic treatments. Let’s look again in 10 years and see where we are then. I mean heck it is only ten years but I expect a lot will change.

  • Kelly Mack moderator author
    3 years ago

    Thanks for commenting Rick. There’s definitely been a lot of changes to treatments over the years and recent developments make me hopeful for even better options. 🙂 Best, Kelly

  • Gail
    2 years ago

    I too started on the gold shots and your right, very painful and slow. Once my RA doctor headed up a drug study on Enbrel and got me included in the study, my life changed for the better. Enbrel did wonders for me, how fantastic to feel like that again. To be able to walk with relatively no pain. To be able to work a computer with fingers and wrists that worked. Wow, it was great. The Enbrel worked for quite awhile until one day it just didn’t anymore. I guess it was a slow progress now that I look back on it. Each week got a little more pain back. But I refused to go off the Enbrel. It was the first drug that made such a huge difference and I wanted that back again. Since then I’ve probably been on all the RA drugs, but I’m not giving up. I have a lot of damage to my joints from the RA that I know won’t go away. Just hoping to stop any further damage.

  • Richard Faust moderator
    3 years ago

    Thanks for writing Rick. The changes do seem to be happening quickly. Kelly (full disclosure – I’m her husband) recently wrote this article on the potential for personalized medicine, including treatment that may actually be able to target RA in individual joints: Best, Richard ( Team)

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