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Rheumatoid Arthritis Medication: The Right Care

Don't let RA slow you down. Get the facts about rheumatoid arthritis medications that'll keep you moving.

Rheumatoid Arthritis Medication: Live Longer, Live Better continued...

Several major studies have documented the dramatic benefits of early treatment with rheumatoid arthritis medication. Research presented at an American College of Rheumatology Annual Scientific Meeting found that early, intensive treatment with a combination of rheumatoid arthritis medication offers a chance of remission.

And a study by Matteson and his colleagues, published in Arthritis Care and Research, found that patients who developed RA more recently, and are receiving more aggressive treatment, require as much as 35% fewer joint replacement surgeries than people diagnosed 20 years ago, Matteson tells WebMD.

So how early should you begin treatment with rheumatoid arthritis medication? As soon as a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis is made, Matteson says. And that can usually be done with confidence as little as six weeks after the first onset of symptoms.

"It's never too early, and never too late -- there's plenty of data that even treating late does help, so don't despair if you didn't receive early treatment," says Theodore R. Fields, MD, FACP, clinical director of the Gosden-Robinson Early Arthritis Center at New York's Hospital for Special Surgery. "But, clearly there's a dramatic benefit of getting in there early to get the disease controlled."

Rheumatoid Arthritis Medication: A Range of Options

People with rheumatoid arthritis have a broad range of options for treatment, and doctors may try several rheumatoid arthritis drug combinations before they find the one that works best for you. Rheumatoid arthritis medications include:

  • DMARDs (disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs), can slow, and sometimes even prevent, joint damage, and destruction associated with rheumatoid arthritis. They include leflunomide (Arava), sulfasalazine (Azulfidine), hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil), tofacitinib (Xeljanz), and methotrexate. Methotrexate is the most commonly prescribed first-line treatment for RA because it provides quick relief and has a relatively low rate of side effects.
  • Biologic DMARDs are a newer group of drugs derived from living organisms. These medications block various elements of the immune system that can fuel inflammation. They include Actemra, Cimzia, Enbrel, Humira, Kineret, Orencia, Remicade, Rituxan, and Simponi.
  • Corticosteroids: They may reduce some joint damage by reducing inflammation, but their limited effectiveness and high rate of side effects do not make corticosteroids a good long-term treatment strategy.
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): these drugs, such as ibuprofen and Motrin, relieve symptoms and mild inflammation but do not have any modifying effect on the disease itself.
  • Analgesics such as creams (capsaicin) or pain medication pills such as propoxyphene (Darvon) or Oxycodone.

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