You start off as normal healthy person and Rheumatoid Arthritis comes sneaking up on you gradually in most cases. You start to notice pain and fatigue. Your joints hurt and you feel so awful, and yet you still wonder if you're sick or is it just life catching up with you? But now the effects are hitting you like a ton of bricks. My doctor thought I was dramatizing and hysterical so the process of finding the problem took longer.
But finally you have a diagnosis and start on methotrexate, the "gold standard" drug. You have to wait to feel the effects and they creep up on the RAD just like it crept up on you. Finally you start to feel the drug is working. The pain and fatigue ease up and you can function better bit by bit, even though nausea and gastro effects may make you feel like crap. (And this is a good result)
(note: injecting MTX is easier on the stomach than pills)
And you are happy that your joints are not swollen and there is less pain and fatigue. Your normal/old life is hard to remember but you feel better and that's some relief. However from my reading and the evidence of my own joints after years on MTX, damage to your joints may still be occurring.
If you were to look at X Rays it is easy to see the difference between a normal joint and one seriously affected by RAD
Normal joints have space between them and you can see 8 separate bones in the healthy wrist.
I was shocked to find out after years with RA and MTX and assorted other Dmards that MTX does not stop damage to bones from occurring. Your symptoms may improve with that treatment but it is no guarantee that your bones are not being eroded and that your joint space is not narrowing.
For years I thought that I was on the best treatment and did not think I needed a biologic drug. That was before I saw information about new clinical trials and read that with a biologic there is a lot less joint destruction.
As an example the Premier Trial concluded that "ADA+MTX (adalimumab + methotrexate) inhibited both JE (joint erosions) and JSN (joint space narrowing) progression independently of disease activity. JSN played a more prominent role in patient-reported outcomes than JE. Preventing the onset or worsening of JSN probably represents a critical aspect of effective disease management of early rheumatoid arthritis patients"
And here "Early intervention with combination therapy also offered substantial protection from radiographic damage compared with methotrexate monotherapy."
MTX Right/Folic acid Left
Dr Haraoui says this in an editorial from Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases
"Indeed regardless of the therapy used, approximately 50% of patients will not show radiographic progression over 2–3 years; This percentage increases up to 75–85% of patients receiving combination therapy, and those who do progress, progress less than patients on methotrexate alone."
There are many reasons that I have a lot of damage to my joints. Some is due to late diagnosis of course, but 20 years on MTX, even with other associated Dmards, was not enough to stop the joint damage. By the time I had a wrist fusion the Dr could not distinguish the eight separate bones and said there was no cartilage at all in the joint.
When you end up with this much damage there are many things that are difficult or painful for you to do and some things are just not possible anymore. Damage leads to disability. "The association between joint damage and disability in rheumatoid arthritis (RA), especially in the later stages of disease, is a main reason why radiographic joint damage is a common and valid outcome measure in RA clinical trials"
Structural Damage www.ehow.com
Here is one of the main goals of rheumatology treatment:
"The primary goal of treating the patient with rheumatoid arthritis is to maximise long-term health-related quality of life through control of symptoms, prevention of structural damage, normalisation of function and social participation."
The treatment is now much better and the levels of damage to joints have decreased over each decade. The level of disability is decreasing over time with good treatment. That's the good news