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A 48-year-old man presents with complaints of bilateral morning stiffness in his wrists and knees and pain in these joints on exercise. On physical examination, the joints are slightly swollen. The rest of the examination is unremarkable. His laboratory findings are also negative except for slight anemia, elevated erythrocyte sedimentation rate, and positive rheumatoid factor. With the diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis, he is started on a regimen of naproxen, 220 mg twice daily. After 1 week, the dosage is increased to 440 mg twice daily. His symptoms are reduced at this dosage, but he complains of significant heartburn that is not controlled by antacids. He is then switched to celecoxib, 200 mg twice daily, and on this regimen his joint symptoms and heartburn resolve. Two years later, he returns with increased joint symptoms. His hands, wrists, elbows, feet, and knees are all now involved and appear swollen, warm, and tender. What therapeutic options should be considered at this time? What are the possible complications?

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The Immune Response

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The immune response occurs when immunologically competent cells are activated in response to foreign organisms or antigenic substances liberated during the acute or chronic inflammatory response. The outcome of the immune response for the host may be deleterious if it leads to chronic inflammation without resolution of the underlying injurious process (see Chapter 55). Chronic inflammation involves the release of a number of mediators that are not prominent in the acute response. One of the most important conditions involving these mediators is rheumatoid arthritis, in which chronic inflammation results in pain and destruction of bone and cartilage that can lead to severe disability and in which systemic changes occur that can result in shortening of life.

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The cell damage associated with inflammation acts on cell membranes to release leukocyte lysosomal enzymes; arachidonic acid is then liberated from precursor compounds, and various eicosanoids are synthesized. As discussed in Chapter 18, the cyclooxygenase (COX) pathway of arachidonate metabolism produces prostaglandins, which have a variety of effects on blood vessels, on nerve endings, and on cells involved in inflammation. The lipoxygenase pathway of arachidonate metabolism yields leukotrienes, which have a powerful chemotactic effect on eosinophils, neutrophils, and macrophages and promote bronchoconstriction and alterations in vascular permeability.

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The discovery of two cyclooxygenase isoforms (COX-1 and COX-2) led to the concept that the constitutive COX-1 isoform tends to be homeostatic, while COX-2 is induced during inflammation and facilitates the inflammatory response. On this basis, highly selective COX-2 inhibitors have been developed and marketed on the assumption that such selective inhibitors would be safer than nonselective COX-1 inhibitors but without loss of efficacy.

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Kinins, neuropeptides, and histamine are also released at the site of tissue injury, as are complement components, cytokines, and other products of leukocytes and platelets. Stimulation of the neutrophil membranes produces oxygen-derived free radicals and other reactive molecules such as hydrogen peroxide and hydroxyl radicals. ...

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