Common arthritis medication linked to increased risk of infection

Sep 22, 2020
Glucocorticoids are a group of anti-inflammatory drugs. Source: Getty.

Glucocorticoids (a group of drugs) are commonly prescribed to rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients thanks to their powerful anti-inflammatory properties, but researchers from the US have now warned those who take it may be at a higher risk of infection.

The researchers found a link between the use of glucocorticoids and an increased risk of infection, even at very low doses. It’s important to note that while these powerful medicines are great at relieving pain and swelling, they can also suppress the immune system.

The team analysed 200,000 patients with RA and found patients who received a higher dose (more than 10mg per day) had more than twice the risk of serious infection, compared to those not receiving the steroids. Additionally, patients receiving the lowest dose had close to a 30 per cent increased risk of infection.

The researchers said that while the research can’t prove that the meds directly caused the increase, their findings should help physicians and RA patients better understand their risks. The findings were published in the academic journal Annals of Internal Medicine on Tuesday.

Around 450,000 Australians are currently living with RA, a condition that can affect anyone at any age and may cause significant pain and disability. RA typically begins in the smaller joints of the hands, wrists and feet. If not appropriately managed, ongoing inflammation can lead to irreversible joint damage and loss of function.

The research comes one month after a new treatment option — RINVOQ (upadacitinib) — was recently made available on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) for patients with moderate to severely active RA who have responded inadequately to, or who are intolerant to, one or more disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs).

Rheumatologist Professor Andrew Ostor said at the time that the availability of this new treatment option on the PBS is good news for people living with RA.

“The availability of this new option on the PBS provides an important addition to the treatment landscape and may assist with managing disease progression for people living with RA,” Professor Ostor said.

He continued: “The most important goal of treating rheumatoid arthritis is to reduce joint pain and swelling and to maintain and/or improve joint function. The long-term goal of treatment is to slow or stop the disease process, particularly joint damage.”

IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.

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