If you’re one of the 1.3 million Americans living with rheumatoid arthritis today, you’re no stranger to stiff, painful joints that often get in the way of doing simple daily tasks. Although there’s no cure for this condition, there are many effective treatments that can help to ease your pain and other symptoms.
Once you’re diagnosed with RA, it’s important to start treatment right away to slow progression of this condition and cut your chances of joint damage and loss of mobility. There are many different approaches to arthritis treatment — work with your doctor to decide what will work best for you and your symptoms. Often, a combination of therapies, including lifestyle changes and RA medications, can offer you the best arthritis relief.
4 Main Medications Used to Treat RA
Today, many RA medicines are available to treat symptoms. Some are used to relieve joint inflammation and other symptoms, while others can slow arthritis development and stop structural damage. Your doctor may recommend combining two or more drugs. Each medication has its own set of side effects and precautions, so talk to your doctor to figure out the best treatment plan for you.
These are the four main types of RA medications that you should know about:
• Biologic agents
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can ease pain and inflammation. Over-the-counter NSAIDs include ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) and naproxen (Aleve), while stronger prescription NSAIDs are also available.
Potential side effects: Upset stomach, ringing ears, heart problems, liver and kidney damage.
Corticosteroid medications, such as prednisone, prednisolone and methyprednisolone, reduce pain and swelling and slow joint damage. Fast-acting, they’re often used to get potentially destructive inflammation under control, while giving NSAIDs and DMARDs time to work. Due to harmful side effects, doctors use them for a short time span and in low dosages.
Potential side effects: Cataracts, weight gain, diabetes, brittle bones.
While disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) take more time to work (up to three or four months), they can halt the progress of RA while protecting joints, cartilage and other tissues from long-term damage. If you’ve recently been diagnosed with RA, your doctor is likely to prescribe a DMARD. Research has found that early treatment with these drugs can prevent the irreversible joint damage that may occur as the condition progresses.
The most commonly used DMARD for RA is methotrexate (Trexall). Others include sulfasalazine (Azulfidine), leflunomide (Arava), hydroxycholorquine (Plaquenil), minocycline (Dynacin, Minocin) and azathioprine (Imuran).
Potential side effects: DMARDs suppress the immune system, so be on the lookout for a sore throat, coughing or a fever. Other side effects may include severe lung infection and liver damage.
Biologic agents are the latest type of medications used for RA. Currently, six agents have been approved to treat RA. They include abatacept (Orencia), adalimumab (Humira), anakinra (Kineret), etanercept (Enbrel), infliximab (Remicade) and rituximab (Rituxan). Each of these agents works to obstruct a specific step in the inflammation process. These drugs do not block the bodies’ entire immune response, as other RA medications sometimes do. For many with RA, a biologic agent can slow or even stop its progression, especially when other treatments haven’t been successful.
Potential side effects: Higher risk for serious infections, congestive heart failure.
The future for treating RA is promising, as researchers continue to discover effective, new medications. You can successfully manage your rheumatoid arthritis and enjoy a healthy, happy life. Work closely with your doctor and healthcare team to explore your options and develop a treatment plan that will work for you.