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  • Writer's pictureDr. Chris Phillips

Navigating Rheumatoid Arthritis Remission: Understanding, Achieving, and Sustaining

Updated: Feb 7



Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic condition with no known cure, but the concept of remission offers hope and relief to those grappling with its impact. In this article, we delve into the definitions of remission, the likelihood of achieving it, and the crucial role of early and aggressive treatment. We will also explore the nuanced aspects of sustaining remission, including the option of drug-free periods and the importance of lifestyle factors in managing RA symptoms.


Understanding Remission in RA

When RA remission was first defined in 1981, it aimed at the elimination of all disease activity. However, today's understanding acknowledges the challenges of reaching complete eradication and focuses on achieving a limited or small amount of disease. The American College of Rheumatology (ACR) and the European League Against Rheumatism (EULAR) have developed criteria for defining remission, considering factors such as joint tenderness, swelling, inflammation levels, and patient-reported assessments.


Likelihood of Remission

The odds of reaching remission are significantly influenced by early diagnosis and aggressive treatment with disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) and biologics. Factors such as low disease activity at the start of treatment and negative markers for RA contribute to a higher chance of attaining remission.


Drug-Free Remission

Once remission is achieved, the decision to continue or discontinue RA medications is a critical consideration. We encourage you to speak with your rheumatologist to determine the past plan of action for you. Complete withdrawal may be effective for some, but sustaining a drug-free remission for an extended period remains challenging due to the potential for underlying inflammation and joint damage.


Should You Take a Drug Holiday?

Reducing medication dosages rather than complete withdrawal is something your rheumatologist may consider, as it minimizes the risk of disease resurgence. A temporary stoppage of treatment, known as a drug holiday, requires careful consideration of factors such as insurance implications, drug effectiveness upon restart, and the potential development of anti-drug antibodies.


Navigating Remission: Tips and Insights

  • Complex Definition of Remission:

  • Remission is not a total disappearance of symptoms but rather a state of limited disease activity.

  • Patient-reported assessments play a crucial role in defining remission, emphasizing the subjective nature of the condition.

  • Varied Duration of Remission:

  • The length of remission varies from a few weeks to over 12 months, highlighting the individualized nature of RA management.

  • Early and aggressive treatment with DMARDs significantly increases the chances of achieving and sustaining remission.

  • Holistic Approach to Maintaining Remission:

  • Beyond medication, lifestyle factors such as not smoking, regular exercise, a healthy diet, and managing comorbidities contribute to maintaining remission.

  • The importance of frequent disease activity assessments and adjustments in medication as needed cannot be overstated.

  • Tapering Medication During Remission:

  • Collaboration with a healthcare professional is crucial when considering a reduction in medication dosage.

  • While some tapering may be possible, complete withdrawal, especially of DMARDs, is often impractical for sustained remission.

  • Inevitability of Relapses:

  • Despite diligent adherence to treatment plans, relapses are inevitable, requiring proactive communication with rheumatologists.

  • Switching to different DMARDs may be necessary to regain control in case of resistance or flare-ups.

Achieving and sustaining remission in rheumatoid arthritis is a dynamic process that involves early intervention, careful management, and a holistic approach to health. The journey may involve periods of adjustment, collaboration with healthcare professionals, and a deep understanding of individual responses to treatment. 


At Paducah Rheumatology, our healthcare team is here to help our patients make the best decisions for their RA to enhance their quality of life and work towards a state of remission that allows them to lead fulfilling, active lives.

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