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Arthritis: Disease-Modifying Medications

There are a variety of arthritis medications called disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs, or DMARDs, that work by curbing the underlying processes that cause certain forms of inflammatory arthritis including rheumatoid arthritis (RA), ankylosing spondylitis, and psoriatic arthritis.

These drugs not only treat arthritis symptoms, but they also can slow down progressive joint destruction. Some of these medications have been used to treat other conditions, such as cancer or inflammatory bowel disease, or to reduce the risk of rejection of a transplanted organ.

Recommended Related to Rheumatoid Arthritis

Understanding Rheumatoid Arthritis -- Symptoms

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) mainly causes joint pain and swelling. It can also affect other parts of your body. The symptoms can vary from person to person. They may also appear and disappear with time and treatment.

Read the Understanding Rheumatoid Arthritis -- Symptoms article > >

DMARDs include:


Biologics Include


Anti-malarial Drugs (Plaquenil)

Hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil) is a drug used to treat malaria. It was discovered that it worked for arthritis when people taking the drug for malaria reported improvements in their arthritis. The drug affects the immune system, although doctors do not know precisely how it works to improve rheumatoid conditions.

Usually hydroxychloroquine is used along with other DMARDs. It can be given along with steroid treatment. Hydroxychloroquine is also used to treat lupus.

The drug is given by mouth daily. Side effects include low white blood cell counts, blood or protein in the urine, nausea, and skin rashes. High doses can rarely cause injury to the back of the eye (retina); therefore, patients on this drug should see an eye doctor every 12 months.

Luflunomide (Arava)

Leflunomide (Arava) helps calm the inflammation associated with RA. The medication interferes with the production of inflammatory cells, like those of the immune system. It can reduce signs and symptoms of RA, inhibit joint damage, and can also improve physical function.

Leflunomide is a tablet that is taken in a dose of 10 or 20 milligrams once a day. It can be taken on an empty stomach or with meals. Possible side effects include rash, hair loss, irritation of the liver, nausea, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. When taking leflunomide, it is necessary to have regular blood tests to check liver function and other measures. Arava is not recommended for people who have liver disease, pregnant or nursing women, or people with immune systems weakened by an immune deficiency or disorder.

Since leflunomide can cause serious birth defects, both men and women should use a reliable method of birth control while being treated with this drug. If a woman taking leflunomide wishes to become pregnant, she must stop taking the drug. Then she must follow a drug elimination procedure to get all the medication out of the body, and then have a blood test to prove that the drug is cleared. Less is known about the effects of leflunomide on men planning to father children. Men should consider stopping the medication and following the elimination procedure before attempting to conceive.

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