When axial spondyloarthritis (SpA) is suspected, a “prompt referral to a rheumatologist” is in order. But with the referral possibly taking several weeks, if not months in some parts of the world, how can primary care practitioners manage patients with this type of chronic back pain in the meantime? And what is the long-term role of the primary care practitioner in managing someone diagnosed with the condition? Medscape Medical News asked rheumatologist Marina Magrey, MD, and general internal medicine physician Debra Leizman, MD, for their expert advice.
Steps to Manage Suspected Axial SpA
“As [primary care practitioners] identify patients who they suspect may have axial spondyloarthritis, the first thing they should do is a prompt referral to a rheumatologist so that there is a timely diagnosis,” said Magrey, who heads up the division of rheumatology at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center and is professor of medicine at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland, Ohio.
Importantly, the referral should “explicitly say that they’re suspecting axial spondyloarthritis” and not just chronic back pain, Magrey added, otherwise it may not “hit the radar” that patients need to be seen as soon as possible. Results of lab tests such as C-reactive protein, erythrocyte sedimentation rate, and human leukocyte antigen B27, along with basic pelvic imaging results, are useful to note on the referral. “If the patient comes with that information, it makes it much easier for the rheumatologist,” she said.
Additionally, primary care practitioners can carry out screening for high cholesterol and high blood pressure and check for any existing cardiovascular disorders or extraarticular manifestations before the patient gets to see the rheumatologist.
First-Line Treatment Options
“The goal is to improve the quality of life for our patients: To reduce pain, fatigue, inflammation,” Magrey noted. “So, starting a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug [NSAID] with physical therapy is very useful” in primary care, she added. These remain the “cornerstone” of treatment for axial SpA even in secondary care.
Leizman agreed that her “go to” treatment for suspected axial SpA is physical therapy alongside one of the many NSAIDs available, such as naproxen or celecoxib. She may also use topical treatments such as lidocaine or diclofenac.
“I’m not going to start any biologics; I leave that for my rheumatologist,” said Leizman, who is a senior attending physician in the division of general internal medicine at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center and associate professor of medicine at Case Western Reserve University.
“If I think it’s a possibility that the patient will be going on to a biologic, however, I will try to check their TB status, immunizations, and vaccination titers, making sure that the patient is up to date and as healthy otherwise as possible so that they will be primed and ready, hopefully, to go on to the biologics,” she added.
Magrey cautioned that disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs, such as methotrexate and sulfasalazine, and systemic steroids such as oral prednisone “do not work in axial spondyloarthritis, so they are not recommended.”
Does the Choice of NSAID Matter?
The choice of NSAID is really down to the personal choice of the physician in agreement with the patient, and of course whether the medical insurance will cover it, Magrey observed. There appears to be little difference between the available NSAIDs, and it doesn’t appear to matter whether they are long-acting and taken once a day — which may be a convenient option for some patients — or short-acting and taken twice a day. The important point is that patients are taking these drugs continuously and not on demand and that they are being given at full dose.
“Start with one NSAID at the maximum strength, and then you try that for 2-4 weeks. If that doesn’t work, switch to another one,” Magrey advised.
American College of Rheumatology (ACR) guidelines for axial SpA recommend that a trial of at least two NSAIDs is undertaken before any biologic treatment is considered, but because the presentation of axial SpA is so heterogeneous, the decision to escalate treatment — usually to a tumor necrosis factor inhibitor first — is best left until after the referral and the diagnosis had been confirmed, she suggested.
What Type of Physical Therapy Works?
Physical therapy and nonpharmacologic ways to help people are integral to optimal patient management. But these still need to be prescribed and administered by a qualified physiotherapist, which means another, separate referral that can also take time, as it’s important to match the patient to the right physiotherapist, Leizman observed.
Patients need to be informed about the benefits of regular exercise, and suggesting low-impact exercises for the back can be helpful, Magrey noted.
“Supervised physical therapy is preferred over unsupervised back exercises,” Magrey said, summarizing current ACR recommendations, which also suggest that land-based activities are preferred over water-based exercises and group physical therapy rather than home-based exercises, according to the available evidence, although it is of low-to-moderate quality.
What type of physical therapy to recommend really boils down to what services are available, what facilities the patient has access to, and what they feel they are capable of doing or are willing to do.
Back pain can be frustrating for patients, said Leizman, because they hurt when they move, and there’s not a simple solution of “do this or that and you’ll get better.”
“If it’s possible for a patient to do aqua therapy, that has been a good option for many of my patients who are unable to get moving on land without pain,” she said, and “I’ve had some great success with some yoga therapists who work with my patients.”
Long-term Role of the Primary Care Practitioner
Once referred, patients with axial SpA will usually be seen by their rheumatologists at least twice a year to monitor their response to treatment. Primary care practitioners will also continue to see these people for other reasons and can help monitor for drug toxicity by performing blood and liver function tests, as well as looking for signs of associated conditions such as uveitis, psoriasis, and inflammatory bowel disease and referring patients on to other specialists as required.
Treating the inflammatory back pain may sometimes help treat the related conditions and vice versa, but not always, noted Leizman. Communication between professionals is thus very important to ensure that everyone is on the same page, and regular updates help enormously.
Leizman tries to see all her patients regularly, at least once a year, but it can be once or twice a year, depending on their age, how healthy they are, and what underlying conditions they may have that she is also managing along with the inflammatory back condition. It is a balancing act to prevent too many appointments, she said, but also helps patients manage the multiple recommendations.
At these appointments, she’ll not only check on patients’ progress and ensure that they have had all the tests that they should have, but she’ll also discuss general measures that may help with patients’ general health, such as weight control, their ability to manage disease processes with other daily activities of living, and other creative coping mechanisms.
“The weight discussion is never easy, but it is helpful to address the impact of weight if it may be contributing to their discomfort,” Leizman said. “I also think that there are diets patients can choose that are less inflammatory and that can be beneficial.”
Ultimately, “I want my patients to be on the least amount of medicine possible,” Leizman said. “If they need medications, I support my rheumatologists’ recommendations. I help my patients as they try whatever works to make them feel better, both the nonpharmaceutical options and the medications,” she said.
“Importantly, I am there for support as a resource and a partner,” Leizman added. “I’m the main quarterback for my patients.”
- Prompt referral to a rheumatologist remains key.
- The treatment goal is to improve patients’ quality of life by reducing symptoms such as pain and fatigue.
- Physical therapy and NSAIDs remain first-line treatment in primary care.
- NSAID treatment should be at the full recommended dose and given continuously, not as needed.
- The choice of NSAID does not matter; try switching the NSAID if no effects are seen.
- Physical therapy such as water-based activities and yoga may be beneficial, but exercise programs should be prescribed by a qualified therapist.
- Remember general health advice regarding diet and nutrition can be helpful.
Source link : https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/what-best-way-manage-axial-spondyloarthritis-primary-care-2024a100005l?src=rss
Publish date : 2024-01-03 12:10:30
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