Experts hope Glenn Frey death doesn't deter RA sufferers from seeking treatment

Glenn Frey of The Eagles performs during the 2012 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.
Glenn Frey of The Eagles performs during the 2012 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.
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The manager of the Eagles is partly blaming medications used to treat the late guitarist Glenn Frey’s rheumatoid arthritis for his death, claiming they caused Frey's ulcerative colitis and pneumonia. Experts say the medications do bring some risks, but they are outweighed by their benefits.

Drugs used to treat rheumatoid arthritis do create a slightly increased risk of infections such as pneumonia, according to the experts. But UCLA rheumatologist Dr. Veena Ranganath conducted a brief review of  commonly used drug package inserts and said she didn’t find any association with ulcerative colitis.

Bob Seger, a close friend of Frey's, told the Detroit Free Press that Frey had suffered from colitis most of his life. 

The combination of rheumatoid arthritis and ulcerative colitis "could have easily become lethal," Dr. Morton Tavel, a clinical professor of medicine at the Indiana University School of Medicine, told Yahoo Health

Ranganath worries that Frey's manager's comments will persuade some people with rheumatoid arthritis, also known as RA, to avoid taking medications for it.
"The benefits of treatment of RA do outweigh the risk," she said. "But this is a really important conversation you need to address in detail with the rheumatologist."

Ranganath said she hopes the publicity around Frey’s death will spur more funding for research into the disease.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that affects an estimated 1.5 million adults each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It inflames and attacks the joints, and it can cause fatal complications, such as strokes or certain cancers.

But it can be controlled with drugs, and if it's caught early enough it can sometimes be put into remission by medication, experts say. Medications used to treat rheumatoid arthritis range from pills to low dose infusions of certain cancer drugs.

"Ideally the medications [to treat rheumatoid arthritis] are chosen because they are necessary to help a patient to have less disability, greater levels of function and prevent destruction and disability over time," says Dr. Mark Genovese, a rheumatologist at Stanford Health Care. "So one has to carefully weigh the advantages and disadvantages of care one receives, including prescription drugs."

As long as a patient is "on the appropriate medications and they are tailored for you, you can have a very fruitful life with normal longevity and normal levels of social and work-related function without any one necessarily knowing or being aware of your condition," he adds.