Watching any of the ads on TV for Humira or Xeljanz, the viewer might think that all symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis (R.A.) can be easily relieved. Some of the ads seem to picture R.A. as something that is inconvenient, an interference in our routines. In no time at all, the patient will be living life even better than before.
Maybe so, if better than before means better than before taking the drug. Since the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis vary in every one of us affected with it, we don’t all have the same quick results with the medication. I’m happy for those who can find relief. I have concerns that viewers of these commercials have a working hypothesis that if their spouse, partner, or best friend doesn’t feel better after taking Humira, he or she must have a low tolerance for pain. Or needs to stop dwelling on the pain and swelling. The general public forms opinions about the disease from these ads. Those opinions are a source of frustration for people who are living with the disease and know the realities.
In my case, Humira lessons the visible signs of redness and swelling in the affected joints. But it doesn’t do enough to lessen the pain or control the disease activity. Which means that while I have no outward signs of inflammation, my joints are still sustaining damage from the disease. And it took several months to convince my doctor that I was experiencing discomfort, in spite of taking the Humira on a bi-weekly basis. Ultimately, a biomarker test showed that the R.A. was highly active – in spite of the lack of visible signs.
And so, my doctor increased the dose of Humira to a weekly injection. My struggle with Express Scripts has been documented previously, but let me simply say that I was unable to have any injections delivered for almost seven weeks. That meant instead of doubling the amount of medication my body would receive I was completely cut off from the drug that was helping me go to work every morning. My body did not like this forced medication vacation. That situation has recently been resolved, and now my system is building up a therapeutic dose and I’m beginning to function at an acceptable level.
Those of you who have a friend or a family member with rheumatoid arthritis can be supportive by understanding that these medications do not perform magic. They can take weeks to build up in our systems. Please don’t be impatient with us because we’re not getting better as quickly as the subjects of the drug commercials. Or that the medicine doesn’t banish all our symptoms. Most of us don’t want pity. Just a little understanding that we’re fighting a battle on a daily basis. We don’t want the R.A. to win, but some days we struggle to make breakfast, get dressed, and go to work.
After a full day of work, we’re exhausted. Fatigue is one of the symptoms. Our bodies are attacking our own joints because our autoimmune systems are in high gear. Those drugs you see in the TV ads subdue that activity, which means we now have compromised immune systems. We become fearful of germs because we have little defense against contagious viruses like colds or influenza. Autoimmune diseases eventually give rise to other autoimmune diseases. My R.A. arrived with Sjogren’s Syndrome as it’s partner in crime.
If left untreated, rheumatoid arthritis can bend and twist my joints. Since it’s a systemic autoimmune disease, it can also affect my heart, and other organs. So I take my chance on the lengthy list of side effects. And I double the amount of medication I’m injecting into my system. And I worry silently. (OK, not always silently.) I pretend that I’m not constantly thinking about either damage from the R.A, or damage from the medicine.
And I live my life outside of the Humira and Xeljanz TV commercials in a land the pharmaceutical companies don’t acknowledge.
If you know someone with R.A. or you’ve been diagnosed yourself, what effect do these commercials have on you?