Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory (autoimmune) disease that affects the musculoskeletal system but can also affect other organs, such as the eyes, heart and lungs. In the Czech Republic, approximately 91,000 patients, mostly women, suffer from this disease. In recent years, there has been tremendous progress in terms of treatment options - patients have more accessible and comfortable treatment. Thanks to the early start of biological therapy, they can live a full life and work longer.
Rheumatoid arthritis decreases patients’ functional capacity, worsens the quality of their life and shortens their lives on average by 5-10 years. It occurs most frequently between the ages of 40 and 60, but young patients, whose rheumatoid arthritis can cause their disability within a few years, are no exception. A typical symptom is the morning stiffness of the joints and as the disease progresses, they become swollen and painful and consequently change their shape and structure. Complete stiffness occurs in advanced stages; patients can usually no longer walk and handle daily activities. Very serious for the quality of their life is when the small joints of their hand are affected, which prevents them from caring for themselves (getting dressed, performing daily hygiene, writing, etc.). However, the early start of treatment may significantly slow the progression of the disease, although rheumatoid arthritis cannot be completely cured yet.
Treatment is more comfortable and available
There has been tremendous progress in treatment in terms of rheumatology: the first disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) were launched in the 1990s, and several biologicals are now available. These drugs are significantly more effective, although not suitable for all patients. With timely and correct administration, they can significantly suppress the disease activity.
Previously, modern medicinal products were available to the most affected patients only. As of 1 February 2019, patients with “moderate disease severity” can also receive effective biological treatment. Thousands of more patients can thus receive this new treatment.
“Rheumatology deserves a lot of attention; treatment options have changed beyond recognition. We believe that other revolutionary discoveries will follow,” says Mgr. Jakub Dvořáček, MHA, executive director of the Association of Innovative Pharmaceutical Industry.
Shorter hospitalizations will save state money
We can see benefits of the early start of biological therapy in patients with rheumatoid arthritis, e.g. in a decline in incapacity to work, specifically from 22 to 10 days. Also, the hospitalization time of patients is now shorter and, despite increasing prevalence, the number of patients who need to be hospitalized is decreasing. In 2018, less than 1% of patients required hospitalization.
“The shorter hospitalization time of patients and the lower number of disability pensions generated significant savings of 399 million Czech Crowns during the years 2010-2017 alone,” concludes Jakub Dvořáček.