Arava® & Rheumatoid Arthritis

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Arava (leflunomide), a disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drug (DMARD), works to decrease rheumatoid arthritis symptoms such as joint swelling and tenderness. Over 2 million Americans suffer from rheumatoid arthritis, and while Arava was approved to provide more treatment options for those suffering since 1998, there has been up to 22 deaths in addition to 130 cases of severe liver problems associated with the rheumatoid arthritis drug.

What’s the problem?

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that causes chronic inflammation of the joints. RA can also cause inflammation of the tissue around the joints, as well as in other organs of the body. Autoimmune diseases are illnesses that occur when the body’s tissues are mistakenly attacked by their own immune system. The immune system contains a complex organization of cells and antibodies designed normally to “seek and destroy” invaders of the body, particularly infections. Patients with autoimmune diseases have antibodies in their blood that target their own body tissues, where they can be associated with inflammation. Because it can affect multiple other organs of the body, rheumatoid arthritis is referred to as a systemic illness and is sometimes called rheumatoid disease.

The earlier rheumatoid arthritis is identified in an individual the better. Caught early, there is a better chance of controlling rheumatoid arthritis with early treatment methods. Previously, methotrexate was predominantly used to treat the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, but in 1998, Arava was FDA approved to treat rheumatoid arthritis as well. The FDA stated at the time of approval that Arava was not a more effective medication for rheumatoid arthritis patients, but that the approval of it provided more treatment options. The death rate is 33 times higher when using Arava than when using methotrexate.

Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms

Symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis often include (but are not limited to):

  • inflammation
  • swelling
  • stiffness
  • joint pain
  • red and puffy hands
  • firm bumps of tissue under the skin on your arms (rheumatoid nodules)
  • fatigue
  • morning stiffness that may last for hours
  • fever
  • weight loss

While early treatment is often critical for a rheumatoid arthritis sufferer, Arava has prompted such concern due to its link to death and other serious conditions that Public Citizen consumer watchdog group petitioned the FDA to immediately recall Arava on March 28, 2002. Rheumatoid arthritis usually affects people between the ages of 25-50, differing from many other forms of arthritis in that most other forms affect older generations. Seeking the proper treatment method is important with rheumatoid arthritis. If you are currently taking Arava, it is advised to see your doctor to evaluate what other treatment options you may benefit from.

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