Examining Your Treatment Options

Medication is likely to play an important part in the treatment of your rheumatoid arthritis. This is a lifelong, chronic disease that will probably require you to try different approaches over time.

Keep in mind that your goals are fourfold:

  • To improve your quality of life
  • To prevent joint damage
  • To improve joint functioning
  • To reduce pain

The best strategy probably involves pursuing more than one form of treatment over time. But which medications you take for your rheumatoid arthritis (RA) will depend on many factors: your treatment goals, the severity of your RA, your general health and what other medications you’ve tried in the past.

Rheumatologists agree that treating RA aggressively early on can lessen the potential for future damage.

Drugs used to treat RA

RA medications generally fall into these four categories:

1. Analgesics: A starting point
These are simply painkillers, such as acetaminophen. Some are available by prescription only, while others can be bought over the counter (OTC).

2. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs):
For stronger relief, medications such as ibuprofen and oxycodone fall into this category. They can treat pain and inflammation. Some are prescription-only; others are available OTC.

3. Corticosteroids: Your temporary fix
These prescription anti-inflammatory steroid drugs, such as prednisone, are sometimes used to bring flare-ups under control. Because these medications can have severe side effects (such as weight gain, muscle loss and mood swings), they usually are used only for short periods of time.

4. Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs): Putting a stop to inflammation
These prescription medications work on the immune system to try to slow the course of the disease. A new class of these arthritis medications are biologic response modifiers. These are genetically engineered medications that reduce inflammation and structural damage to the joints by interrupting the cascade of events that drives inflammation. Essentially, they block or “inhibit” the activity of immune cells that are slowly destroying your joints.

Talk to your doctor

Your doctor can help you understand what medications (or combination of medications) are right for you. Don’t give up hope! RA is a complicated disease. Your doctor may be able to suggest a new medication that works differently in your body.

Medication (Generic Name) How it works

Actemra (Tocilizumab)

IL-6-blocking agent

Cimzia (Certolizumab pegol)

TNF-blocking agent

Enbrel (Etanercept)

TNF-blocking agent

Humira (Adalimumab)

TNF-blocking agent

Kineret (Anakinra)

IL-1-blocking agent

Orencia (Abatacept)

T-cell-blocking agent

Plaquenil (Hydroxychloroquine)

Suppresses excessive immune system activity

Remicade (Infliximab)

TNF-blocking agent

Rheumatrex, Trexall (Methotrexate)

Alters the body's use of folic acid

Rituxan (Rituximab)

B-cell-depleting agent

Simponi (Golimumab)

TNF-blocking agent

Updated November 2012

Causes & Risk Factors
Your Healthcare Team
Questions to Ask Your Doctor

Examining Your Treatment Options
PT, OT or Surgery?
Make the Team
A Doctor's Perspective: The Inside Scoop on RA
Team Up with Your Doctor to Feel Better
Why RA Tests Matter


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