RA Patients Dissatisfied—But Maybe Resigned

Susan Ladika

Despite a wide range of medication options, the vast majority of patients with rheumatoid arthritis aren’t happy with their treatment, a survey by drugmaker Eli Lilly found.

Almost three quarters (74%) of the 258 patients surveyed said they weren’t satisfied with their RA treatment. Fatigue, pain, and sleep disturbances were common complaints. More than 40% said they used prescription opioids or NSAIDs regularly in their quest for pain relief. 

Along with traditional disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) such as methotrexate, used alone or in combination with other medications, RA is also treated with biologic DMARDs, a class that includes Humira (adalimumab), which has reigned as the top-selling drug by sales revenue for the last several years.

Despite the dissatisfaction, the majority of those surveyed had been on their current treatment for more than a year, and almost 30% had been on it for at least 5 years. Interestingly, respondents were equally split on whether enough RA medications were available, with 36% saying more medications were needed and the same proportion saying the current options were enough.

Prior studies have found that RA patients may not want to change their medications as long as their condition is stable, even if a change in treatment might improve their condition. Others may be concerned about possible side effects from new medications. Patients may believe their current level of satisfaction is “what they have to live with,” says Christine Radawski, a benefit-risk scientist for Lilly and the lead author of the study, which was published in the September issue of Rheumatology and Therapy

Lilly wanted to gauge what patients themselves actually think about their RA treatment, Radawski says. Her job is to “bring in the patient’s voice,” as Lilly attempts to “find medications that get to the things that matter most to them,” she says.

RA patients from CreakyJoints, a patient support community founded by the not-for-profit Global Healthy Living Foundation, and ArthritisPower, a not-for-profit research initiative founded by CreakyJoints and rheumatology researchers at the University of Alabama–Birmingham, were recruited to take part in the web-based survey. Most (87%) of the respondents were women and most (87%) were white. Women are up to three times more likely to develop RA than men.

Of those surveyed, two thirds were currently taking a biologic DMARD, such as Humira or Enbrel (etanercept), the same proportion were taking a traditional DMARD, and 40% were taking methotrexate. More than 40% of the respondents reported taking their medication daily or almost daily. A similar percentage said they were currently experiencing an RA flare.

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