Can I Cut Back on My RA Medications if I Feel OK?

You've kept up with your rheumatoid arthritis treatment, and it's paid off big time. The pain and stiffness in your joints are starting to fade. So, now you begin to wonder: "Can I cut back on my meds?"

RA is a long-term condition, and medicine keeps your symptoms under control. But some people may be able to reduce the amount of medication they take, with their doctor's advice.

When was your last flare?

Studies show that people who stop their RA medicine are likely to have a flare of symptoms 4 to 8 weeks later. If your disease stays active, you're more likely to get permanent joint damage.

Your doctor will want to know how long it's been since you had any problems, plus do some tests. If everything looks great, your doctor may slowly lower the dose of your medications, usually starting with any NSAID pain-reliever you take, like aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen.

You want to keep a constant and effective level of your RA drugs in your system, so if you are able to cut back on your medicine, it would be a slow change. It helps if you take your medicine at the same time every day.

Do you have any trouble with side effects from your meds?

If so, tell your doctor about them. He may be able to adjust your medicine. For example, many drugs used to treat RA can cause an upset stomach. To help, your doctor may suggest that you change the time of day you take your dose, or he might tell you to take it with food. He may also recommend medication to curb your nausea and stomach acid.

Do you use reminders to help you take medicine on time?

When you feel better and get busy, you might find that you forget to take the medications that got rid of your pain in the first place. Try some simple tips that can help keep your treatment on schedule.

  • Use a pillbox to track which meds to take and when to take them.
  • Pair your drugs with a daily event -- like brushing your teeth or breakfast -- so that you take them at the same time every day.
  • Program a reminder alarm in your cell phone, computer, or digital watch, or download an app that keeps track of your medication schedule.
  • When you renew your prescriptions, make a note on your calendar so you'll know when to get the next refill.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by David Zelman, MD on December 12, 2018

Sources

SOURCES:

Arthritis Today: "If in Remission, Can I Stop Medication?" "Side Effects of RA Medications;" and "Solutions to Medication Side Effects."

American College of Rheumatology Ad Hoc Committee on Clinical Guidelines, Guidelines for the management of rheumatoid arthritis: 2002 update, Arthritis and Rheumatism, 2002.

Harris, E. Kelley's Textbook of Rheumatology, 7th edition, W.B. Saunders, 2005. 

Klippel, John H. Primer on the Rheumatic Diseases, 12th edition, Arthritis Foundation, 2001.

Maetzel A. Journal of Rheumatology, December 1998.

National Heart Lung and Blood Institute: "Tips to Help You Remember to Take Your Blood Pressure Drugs."

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