THURSDAY, April 5, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- More aggressive treatment for people in the early stages of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is among the most important changes recommended in updated American College of Rheumatology treatment guidelines.
This change is the result of emerging opinions that RA-related joint damage is irreversible and that early, intensive treatment helps preserve patients' physical function, quality of life and ability to work.
More than 1 million Americans have rheumatoid arthritis, a chronic disease that causes pain and swelling in the lining of joints. Three-quarters of those with RA are women.
The updated treatment recommendations guide doctors in the use of two main classes of rheumatoid arthritis treatment: disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs and biologic agents.
"With so many new advances in the treatment of RA since 2008, it was important to update recommendations now as the field strives to better control disease progression and improve quality of life," guidelines principal investigator Dr. Jasvinder Singh, an associate professor of immunology and rheumatology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, said in a news release.
"The new guidelines for the first time offer guidance on how and when to switch between drug classes," Singh said. "They also stress the need for vaccination and screening to protect RA patients from infections such as shingles and tuberculosis, and address the treatment of patients who also have cancer, hepatitis or heart failure."
The guidelines were published Monday in the journal Arthritis Care & Research.
The U.S. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases has more about rheumatoid arthritis.