The goal in treating IBD is to achieve a remission of symptoms and prevent flare-ups. One of the newer classes of medications in the arsenal are biologics. These medications have shown to be very helpful in controlling IBD symptoms over time by reducing the inflammation in the intestines and colon. Often only reserved for patients who failed other medications, biologics are starting to be used even earlier in the IBD disease process.
Some of the benefits to using biologics early on include:
Biologics can prevent damage - even when other treatments fail.
Biologics started out being used for moderate to severe IBD that did not respond to other treatments. Depending on which medication is used, studies indicate that 60-70 percent of patients who have failed previous medications initially find some relief from symptoms when they use a biologic. Beginning the medication early can prevent some of the damage caused by longer disease process.
Biologics work fairly quickly.
IBD can be extremely painful and life altering so finding a treatment that works quickly is essential. In most cases patients see improvement of symptoms within 6-8 weeks of starting a biologic treatment.
Biologics have less side effects than corticosteroids.
Biologics work by targeting specific immune responses, such as tumor necrosis factor (TNF), to eliminate the cause of the inflammatory response. Alternative treatments involve corticosteroids which are not targeted and suppress the entire immune system. Due to this targeted nature biologics are less likely to have the major side effects that corticosteroids have. Side effects can vary but tend to resolve when treatment ends.
Biologics help maintain remission over time.
While the quick response of biologics and their ability to cause remission of disease is important, the fact that over time they help maintain remission is essential. Patients who are able to maintain remission have less damage to the mucosa of the intestines, don’t need corticosteroid treatments as frequently and have a better quality of life.
Biologics may not be right for every IBD patient and it is important to talk with your gastroenterologist about the risks and benefits to any treatment. There are some patients for whom biologics will not be a suitable choice. Only your physician can determine if they are a safe treatment option for your IBD.
Jennifer Rackley is a nutritionist and mother of three girls. Two of her children have dealt with acid reflux disease, food allergies, migraines, and asthma. She has a Bachelor of Science in dietetics from Harding University and has done graduate work in public health and nutrition through Eastern Kentucky University. In addition to writing for HealthCentral, she does patient consults and serves on the Board of Directors for the Pediatric Adolescent Gastroesophageal Reflux Association.