Health

5 People Explain How Biologics Helped Their Rheumatoid Arthritis When Nothing Else Would

One of the most frustrating parts of being diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis is realizing that there isn’t one medication that can instantly relieve your symptoms. Instead, you may need to try different medications for a few months at a time until you find one that makes a big difference for you. Sometimes, a certain medication may work for a while and then fail—so the process of finding a treatment that works starts all over again.

This trial and error is mentally and physically exhausting, especially because you’re already dealing with a chronic condition that can cause debilitating symptoms like joint swelling, stiffness, and pain. But you shouldn’t give up trying. There are so many medications available to treat rheumatoid arthritis, which means if one doesn’t work for you you still have options.

Many people have success with biologics, a class of different medications that attack various elements of your immune system involved in rheumatoid arthritis. When you find a type of biologic that works, it can really change how you feel in your body. (Keep in mind that your treatment options may change over time based on new research and newly available therapies. Make sure you have ongoing conversations with your doctor about which treatment options may be best for you.) To help you understand how this journey looks different for everyone, SELF spoke to five people with rheumatoid arthritis who had a winding road to the best treatment for them—and how it gave them their lives back.

1. “I had this feeling like there was hope.”

Lisa Copen, 53, was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in 1993. Over a period of three weeks, her feet, ankles, knees, and wrists became so sore and stiff that she could barely open a door and could no longer work the stick shift in her car.

By 2000, Copen had tried nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)1 in addition to disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs), which target the immune system to control the inflammation. But nothing helped. As a result, she had significant joint damage and needed multiple surgeries to regain her mobility. Later that year, Copen talked to her rheumatologist about trying biologics to treat her condition—and that’s when her life significantly improved. After she made the switch, she no longer felt limited by chronic pain.

In 2003, Copen and her husband adopted their son, and just being able to throw a ball with him has been so rewarding. “It’s significant when you do something that’s very normal, and you realize five minutes into it that you’re able to do it,” Copen tells SELF. It was while walking around a mall with her husband, just before adopting their son, that this really sunk in. “I was walking along, and not really thinking about my pain. I had this feeling like there was hope.”

Although she still struggles to do certain things—like walk for long periods of time—Copen is happy with how far she’s come since her diagnosis. “We can celebrate our little wins, whatever they are,” she says.

2. “I’m no longer the mom who cries all the time.”

Stacy Courtnay, 43, has been in remission for the last 10 years, but finding the right medication took some time. Courtnay was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in 2003 when she was almost 25. By then, the stiffness and pain she started noticing in her feet about a year earlier had spread to her shoulders and wrists. “I couldn’t even squeeze the toothpaste,” Courtnay tells SELF.

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