Rheumatoid Arthritis Drug Guide
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a progressive inflammatory disease that affects the joints. It gets worse over time unless the inflammation is stopped or slowed. Only in very rare cases does rheumatoid arthritis go into remission without treatment.
Arthritis medications play an essential role in controlling the progression and symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. Starting treatment soon after diagnosis is most effective. And the best medical care combines rheumatoid arthritis medications and other approaches.
You may take rheumatoid arthritis medications alone, but they are often most effective in combination. These are the main types of RA medications:
- Disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs)
- Biologic response modifiers (a type of DMARD)
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs)
- Analgesics (painkillers)
In the past, doctors took a conservative, stepwise approach toward treating rheumatoid arthritis. They started first with NSAIDs such as ibuprofen. Then, they progressed to more potent RA drugs for people who showed signs of joint damage.
Today, doctors know that an aggressive approach is often more effective; it will result in fewer symptoms, better function, less joint damage, and decreased disability. The goal, if possible, is to put the disease into remission.
Rheumatoid Arthritis Drugs: DMARDs
If you've been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, your doctor may recommend that you begin treatment with one of several types of DMARDs within a few months of diagnosis. One of the most important drugs in the arsenal for treating rheumatoid arthritis, DMARDs can often slow or stop the progression of RA by interrupting the immune process that promotes inflammation. However, they may take up to six months to be fully effective.
DMARDs have greatly improved the quality of life for many people with rheumatoid arthritis. These RA drugs are often used along with NSAIDs or glucocorticoids; however, with this type of medication, you may not need other anti-inflammatories or analgesics.
Because DMARDs target the immune system, they also can weaken the immune system's ability to fight infections. This means you must be watchful for early signs of infection. In some cases, you may also need regular blood tests to make sure the drug is not hurting blood cells or certain organs such as your liver, lungs, or kidneys.