Don't Be Afraid of Rheumatoid Arthritis Infusions

Getting RA medication through an IV is no big deal—really! Read on for one patient’s story that will help you nix the fear.

Health Monitor Staff
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In 2004, after trying every treatment for the juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA) she’d had for decades, Carolyn Jimerson and her rheumatologist finally found a combination of drugs that would turn her life around. The 44-year-old switchboard operator from Windsor, SC, had been treated with everything from aspirin to steroids like prednisone to surgical replacement of her hip and knee. And still she developed deformities in her hands and was, as she explains, “constantly achy and miserable. My arthritis was out of control.”

What Carolyn and her rheumatologist tried was a biologic drug administered by intravenous infusion. Given periodically, the medication is designed to relieve pain and stiffness. It also helps prevent or stop the joint damage associated with RA.

In addition to the biologic infusion, Carolyn takes what’s known as an antimetabolite (a drug that interferes with the division of cells). This drug helps reduce inflammation, and Carolyn can inject herself with it on a weekly basis.

Feeling ‘brand new’
While committing to infusion treatment may sound scary at first, Carolyn says the experience has been quite easy and pain-free. She goes to an arthritis clinic that has an infusion room, where several patients are treated at the same time. A nurse administers the medication, which is delivered through a small needle into a vein. Before each treatment, Carolyn takes medication to prevent any negative reaction.

Carolyn prefers to schedule her treatments in the morning. That way, she can work her afternoon shift at the hospital. While treatments may take a while, there is always something to do. “The other patients and I watch the news on TV and talk to one another,” she says. Some centers even offer free Internet access and headphones.

Carolyn is excited about the benefits of infusion therapy, and says she had a “burst of energy” following her first treatment. “You’ve been hurting for so long, and all of a sudden you have this medicine in you. You feel like a brand-new person!”

While she still feels a “little achy” from time to time, especially after a long day at work, Carolyn is much more active these days. An art enthusiast, she regularly visits museums. Three years ago, she joined a gym, where she enjoys lifting weights and working out on the treadmill and elliptical trainer. “We are living in an age where the medicines are so much better,” she says. “You really don’t have to hurt now.”

Feeling better than ever, she is setting new fitness targets. “My goal this season,” Carolyn says proudly, “is to do some squats!”

New to infusion? 8 tips to make treatment go smoothly

  1. Plan to spend 2-3 hours in treatment.
  2. Ask your doctor if you will need to take medications prior to your treatment.
  3. List the medications you take and those to which you are allergic. Show the lists to your healthcare provider prior to your treatments.
  4. Dress in layered clothing in case you feel too cold or too warm during treatment.
  5. Bring reading materials, a personal music player and snacks.
  6. Bring a friend or family member to your first appointment. The company helps, and you may not feel well enough to travel home alone afterward.
  7. Be considerate of others. Don’t make calls on your cell phone during your treatment.
  8. Know that it is okay to eat before, during and after treatment.
April 2013