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Cyclosporine for Rheumatoid Arthritis


Generic Name Brand Name
cyclosporine Gengraf, Neoral, Sandimmune

Cyclosporine is given orally (by mouth) or as a shot (injection).

How It Works

Cyclosporine is an immunosuppressive medicine, which means that it decreases the action of your body's immune system. By interrupting the immune process, cyclosporine reduces inflammation and slows damage to your joints. Cyclosporine is a disease-modifying antirheumatic drug (DMARD), which means that it slows the progression of rheumatoid arthritis. DMARDs are also called slow-acting antirheumatic drugs (SAARDs).

Why It Is Used

Cyclosporine is sometimes used for severe rheumatoid arthritis that has not responded to most other DMARD treatment.

How Well It Works

Cyclosporine can be effective for severe rheumatoid arthritis for short periods of time. Its use is limited because of its toxicity and because it may interact with other medicines you are taking.1

Side Effects

All medicines have side effects. But many people don't feel the side effects, or they are able to deal with them. Ask your pharmacist about the side effects of each medicine you take. Side effects are also listed in the information that comes with your medicine.

Here are some important things to think about:

  • Usually the benefits of the medicine are more important than any minor side effects.
  • Side effects may go away after you take the medicine for a while.
  • If side effects still bother you and you wonder if you should keep taking the medicine, call your doctor. He or she may be able to lower your dose or change your medicine. Do not suddenly quit taking your medicine unless your doctor tells you to.

Call911or other emergency services right away if you have:

Call your doctor if you have:

Cyclosporine may also cause side effects that your doctor will test for, including:

Common side effects of this medicine include:

  • Headache.
  • Increased hair growth.
  • Shaking hands (tremor).
  • Sores in the mouth or bleeding, painful, or swollen gums.
  • Tingling in your feet or hands.

See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)

What To Think About

When you are taking cyclosporine (and even after you are finished taking it), make sure you talk to your doctor before you get any vaccinations. Some vaccines can actually cause the disease they are trying to prevent in people who are taking cyclosporine.

Do not eat grapefruit or drink grapefruit juice when you are taking this medicine.

Taking medicine

Medicine is one of the many tools your doctor has to treat a health problem. Taking medicine as your doctor suggests will improve your health and may prevent future problems. If you don't take your medicines properly, you may be putting your health (and perhaps your life) at risk.

There are many reasons why people have trouble taking their medicine. But in most cases, there is something you can do. For suggestions on how to work around common problems, see the topic Taking Medicines as Prescribed.

Advice for women

Women who use this medicine during pregnancy have a slightly higher chance of having a baby with birth defects. If you are pregnant or planning to get pregnant, you and your doctor must weigh the risks of using this medicine against the risks of not treating your condition.


Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Complete the new medication information form (PDF)(What is a PDF document?) to help you understand this medication.


  1. Drugs for rheumatoid arthritis (2009). Treatment Guidelines From The Medical Letter, 7(81): 37-46.

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerAnne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerNancy Ann Shadick, MD, MPH - Internal Medicine, Rheumatology

Current as ofSeptember 9, 2014

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: September 09, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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