What are rheumatoid arthritis treatment guidelines?
The primary way your rheumatologist or other health professional will design your treatment plan is by following the current RA treatment guidelines. These guidelines are published by the American College of Rheumatology (ACR), the professional association of rheumatologists in the U.S.
Guidelines are usually written and funded by doctors’ associations — what we call the “professional medical societies.” The ACR is the world’s largest society of rheumatologists and rheumatology health professionals. Every two years, guidelines for major types of arthritis, including RA, are updated. Why? So new, important research can be considered by the best arthritis experts, and then they can all agree on how to turn that information into up-to-date recommendations for your arthritis treatment.
You can read the full, published guidelines online. If you find it a little hard to understand, that’s because the RA treatment guidelines are written for doctors and other healthcare professionals.
Leading experts on arthritis create the guidelines as a team. This team or panel includes rheumatologists, rheumatology health professionals, and patients like you. They come up with a final report full of recommendations based on recent scientific information and patient feedback about how best to treat RA. They’re meant to help your doctor make decisions about your prescriptions and other approaches to disease management. They recommend what treatments to use first in most people with RA, and then other options if the first try doesn’t work well enough to lower your disease activity. It’s hard to say how well you may or may not respond to a particular drug. Remember, guidelines are just recommendations. Each person with RA is different and there is no “one size fits all” when it comes to treating RA.
How do doctors use the rheumatoid arthritis treatment guidelines?
Your doctor may use the guidelines to decide if and when now is the best time for you to switch treatments — such as if your first treatment doesn’t work well enough to control your inflammation and lower your disease activity score. Guidelines are recommendations — based on the best information on RA treatments available, and updated regularly (every other year).
Who are the rheumatoid arthritis treatment guidelines for?
Guidelines’ recommendations are often used by people who make decisions about how RA is treated, including:
- Doctors like your rheumatologist or primary-care physician
- Nurses, nurse practitioners, or physician assistants who treat arthritis patients
- Insurance company staff who decide which drugs to cover in their formularies
- Pharmacists who dispense drugs, including at mail-order specialty pharmacies
- Members of Congress or state legislatures, who vote on drug and healthcare laws
All recommendations for how to treat different types of RA patients are based on evidence. That means the experts who write the guidelines take these important steps:
- Gather research done at the world’s top hospitals, universities, and labs by the top experts in arthritis, including current studies and data published in top medical journals around the world
- Read, discuss, and debate all of the evidence on RA treatments in these studies
- Go over everything from drug side effects, interactions, risks of using treatments in patients with other diseases, ease of using the drug in real life, and even availability and cost
- Come up with recommendations based on this evidence on how to best treat people with RA