Comparing Risks and Benefits of Rheumatoid Arthritis Medicines

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Two tunnels

Everything has risks and benefits

Frequently, people ask me about whether it is safe to take Rheumatoid Arthritis medicines like methotrexate. There is no simple answer. Like everything in life, we have to weigh risks and benefits. Is the benefit to be gained worth the risks involved?

Sometimes it’s little things: If the French fry falls on the floor, is it worth the risk to eat it?

Sometimes it’s big things: Is it still safe to fly the Space Shuttle?

Every day, we make choices this way. Some people choose not to take the Swine flu shot. John Madden won’t fly on an airplane…

Examining Rheumatoid Arthritis medicines such as methotrexate

It’s a bit more complex, but we go through the same process with RA medications. Whether we are aware of it or not, we make a judgment about whether the benefits outweigh the risks. If the anticipated benefits outweigh the foreseen risks, then we are willing to give the RA medication a try.

Risks of medications
Risks are things that could go wrong. Sometimes there is the risk of side effects or an allergic reaction to a medication. There may also be a risk that the medicine could cause damage if it is used long term.

Benefits of medications
The benefits list is easier to accept. What short term benefit can an RA’er get out of this? How will this medicine help me fight Rheumatoid Arthritis long term? Is there a long-term benefit?
A Caution against bias when judging Rheumatoid Arthritis medicines

Unexepected things become part to the deliberation process about RA medicines. Past experiences of the individual, the anecdotes of friends, hopes, and fears all can play a part. Several people have told me that they are afraid of Rheumatoid Arthritis medicines like methotrexate because they read a list of side effects on a website.

We should read the list of potential side effects of Rheumatoid Arthritis medicines such as methotrexate. However, we should not stop there. We should weigh the risks and benefits and make a reasonable decision based upon the facts.

Using the example of methotrexate, since it’s such a common Rheumatoid Arthritis medicine, compare how risks are viewed. Compare birth control pills for example, a medication with a list of risks which is similar in some ways to the methotrexate list. Birth control pills have a tremendous list of risks / side effects. However, few women today concentrate upon the risks involved in birth control medicines since they have previously determined that the benefits are worth the risks. With methotrexate, however, the risks are much more notorious.

Let’s compare another Rheumatoid Arthritis medicine to methotrexate: prednisone. Prednisone is legendary for its effectiveness in treating Rheumatoid Arthritis symptoms. Therefore, its side effects/ risks are usually forgiven. I don’t hear many people saying that the long term risks keep them from taking prednisone or discussing how easily the body becomes dependent upon it. The great benefit is assumed to outweigh the risks.

Being unbiased about RA medicines is easier said than done

It is not easy to be objective when we are contemplating our own health and future, particularly when we are weighing that against whether or not we are able to get out of bed. We wonder whether the Rheumatoid Arthritis will take more years off our lives or our medicines will. That does not make it easy to be dispassionate.

Do you compare lists of risks before you take a medicine? Does your doctor ever provide you with a list of benefits when she / he prescribes a new medicine?

Note: The side effect links have several short pages, it’s not all on the first page.

Recommended reading:

How well do Biologic medications help Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Do You Take Methotrexate for Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Rheumatoid Arthritis Requires Disease Treatment and Symptom Treatment

The Controlled Burn Strategy of Disease Control for RA

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Kelly Young. All rights reserved.

This entry was posted on Friday, December 4th, 2009 at 7:55 am and is filed under Living with RA / Managing RA. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


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