Balancing Side Effects vs. Benefits in Treating RA
Managing rheumatoid arthritis often means suppressing the immune system, but that can result in new infections, including shingles.
By Dr. Sanjay Gupta
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Rheumatoid arthritis is an auto-immune disease, which means the immune system is revved too high and is attacking the body's own tissues.
Many RA patients take drugs to suppress the immune system, so-called anti-TNF drugs. These can ease the pain of RA, but they also increases the risk of infection, which is already high with RA patients. So managing this disease is a delicate balance.
One of the most common infections to plague RA sufferers is shingles. This is actually a reactivation of the herpes zoster virus, which is dormant in anyone who had chicken pox as a child.
So researchers wanted to know specifically if anti-TNF drugs increase the risk of shingles. Their findings, published recently in the Journal of the American Medical Association, are good news for people with RA.
Patients who were treated with immune-suppressing anti-TNF drugs had no higher incidence of shingles than patients treated with conventional RA drugs.
All RA patients, regardless of what treatment they use, are at higher risk of shingles. So people with RA, especially if they are elderly, should consider getting vaccinated against the herpes zoster virus.
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