Rheumatoid Arthritis Medications

DMARDs, NSAIDs, and Other Medications for RA

Medications are often used as the initial treatment for rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Rheumatoid arthritis medications can help you cope with RA-related pain and other symptoms, such as inflammation, fatigue, and headaches.

Treating rheumatoid arthritis early with medications can help prevent the condition from getting worse.

Below are some common medications that can help treat your rheumatoid arthritis symptoms. As always, talk to your doctor before taking any medications. They may have side effects or interact with other medications you’re taking.

In-depth Articles on Other Rheumatoid Arthritis Treatments

Based on your symptoms, your doctor will let you know what medications—or combination of medications—are right for you. Your doctor will probably have you try over-the-counter medications before having you try prescription medications.

Over-the-Counter Medications for Rheumatoid Arthritis
Acetaminophen is as an analgesic, which means it can help ease pain, but it won’t address inflammation caused by RA. Tylenol is an example of acetaminophen. If you take too much of it, acetaminophen can cause liver problems. Your doctor will let you know the right dosage for you.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can help easeRA-relatedpain and inflammation. Ibuprofen (Advil) is an example of an NSAID. Prescription-strength NSAIDs are available, but your doctor will most likely want you to take over-the-counter NSAIDs first.

Prescription Medications for Rheumatoid Arthritis
Anti-depressants are sometimes used to help block pain messages from getting to your brain. Just because your doctor prescribes an anti-depressant doesn’t mean you’re depressed. These medications actually help change the way your body interprets the joint pain of RA. Duloxetine (Cymbalta) is an example of an anti-depressant used to treat rheumatoid arthritis.

Corticosteroids—also known as oral steroids—can slow down joint damage and significantly reduce inflammation. Dexamethasone (Decadron) is an example of a corticosteroid used to treat RA.

Over time, corticosteroids become less effective because your body gets used to them. Using these medications also carries some risks: bone loss, weight gain, and high blood pressure. Typically, you’ll need regular checkups with your doctor when taking corticosteroids.

COX-2 inhibitors are the newer versions of prescription-strength NSAIDs. These medications can reduce pain and inflammation without the risk of stomach complications as with traditional NSAIDs. The only COX-2 inhibitor currently on the market is celecoxib (Celebrex).

Disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) can slow the progression of RA and actually modify the disease. They help prevent joint damage. However, DMARDs are typically used in conjunction with an NSAID. The NSAID treats RA-related pain and inflammation and the DMARD works on treating the disease. Methotrexate (Rheumatrex) is the most commonly used DMARD for RA.

A newer class of DMARDknown as tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-alpha inhibitors—has recently entered the mix. TNFs help modify rheumatoid arthritis by working on the immune system. Specifically, they slow down cytokines—proteins that contribute to inflammation. These medications can be used if traditional DMARDs don’t work. One example of a TNF is etanercept (Enbrel). TNFs can be used alone but are often used with other DMARDs. Because these medications are so potent, your doctor will need to closely monitor you while taking these medications.

Opioids are generally very effective at treating intense pain caused by RA. However, because opioids are so potent, you’ll need to use them under your doctor’s supervision. Oxycodone (OxyContin) is an example of an opioid. 

Check with your doctor about what rheumatoid arthritis medications are right for you. If you’re unsure of something, such as the side effects of an RA medication and whether it’ll interact with other medications you’re taking, don’t be afraid to your ask doctor about it.

Updated on: 11/19/15