Lets take two common medications used to treat arthritis. The first is ibuprofen. Ibuprofen is considered a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug or NSAID. While rare, these types of medications have been associated with kidney and liver failure. Monitoring the blood for these abnormalities typically picks up the problem early so the medication can be discontinued without any long term problems. In addition, the finding of a low red blood count or anemia can alert your doctors to the possibility that you may be developing a bleeding ulcer.
Methotrexate, a common rheumatoid arthritis (RA) medication, can be associated with liver damage and blood abnormalities such as a low white blood count. If the white blood count gets too low, it can increase the risk of infection.
In addition to monitoring blood for toxicity, rheumatologists will also typically order blood tests such as a sedimentation rate and C-reactive protein in RA patients to assess their response to treatment and a sedimentation rate and double stranded DNA in lupus patients.
Finally, make sure you hear back regarding your blood results. Doctors are seeing many patients these days and it is important to know that your results were reviewed!
Answers provided by Scott J. Zashin, M.D., clinical assistant professor at University of Texas Southwestern Medical School, Division of Rheumatology, in Dallas, Texas. Dr. Zashin is also an attending physician at Presbyterian Hospitals of Dallas and Plano. He is a fellow of the American College of Physicians and the American College of Rheumatology and a member of the American Medical Association. Dr. Zashin is author of Arthritis Without Pain - The Miracle of Anti-TNF Blockers. The book is useful for anyone on one of the biologic drugs (Enbrel, Remicade, Humira) or considering the biologic drugs. Read our review of the book.