Drug Treatment for Rheumatoid Arthritis
Medications Used to Treat Arthritis Symptoms
Arthritis medicines are generally very effective in helping people with arthritis to manage joint pain and other symptoms. Find out what types of arthritis medicine are available, and how they can help with your arthritis.
By Diana Rodriguez
Medically Reviewed by Pat F. Bass III, MD, MPH
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Arthritis can produce many symptoms and joint problems, including inflammation, swelling, stiffness, and certainly joint pain. But arthritis medicines are available to help ease nearly all types of arthritis aches and pains.
When your doctor is considering which arthritis medicine might be best for your pain, she has many options to choose from. Here, you'll find information on common classes of arthritis medicines, what their potential side effects are, and how they can help you to manage joint pain and other arthritis symptoms.
Acetaminophen for Arthritis
Sold over-the-counter under the brand name Tylenol and others, acetaminophen is often one of the first medications recommended to manage pain, including joint pain caused by arthritis. If taken correctly, acetaminophen has no side effects. However, taking too much can lead to liver damage.
NSAIDS for Arthritis
NSAIDS, or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, are commonly prescribed for arthritis pain and other symptoms. They are available over-the-counter as aspirin (such as Bayer), naproxen (such as Aleve), and ibuprofen (such as Motrin). NSAIDS are also available by prescription; two common brand names are Celebrex (celecoxib) and Vioxx (rofecoxib). These are effective in alleviating pain, swelling, and inflammation, but they do come with side effects, particularly in prescription varieties. These potential side effects include:
- Bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract
- Increased risk of stroke
- Increased risk of a heart attack
- Kidney damage
- Ulcers in the stomach
Corticosteroids for Arthritis
These steroid medications work against the body's immune system to help reduce inflammation and are recommended for autoimmune arthritis conditions like rheumatoid arthritis. These medications can also be helpful for inflammation caused by osteoarthritis, and are usually given occasionally as injections into a specific joint. Corticosteroids can also be taken in pill form; they are not available over the counter. Brand names include Deltasone, Medrol, and Entocort.
Corticosteroids have been associated with some serious side effects, including:
- Bone thinning
- Increases in blood pressure
- Stomach pain or nausea
- Bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract
- Greater risk of infection
Disease-Modifying Anti-Rheumatic Drugs for Arthritis
These drugs, known as DMARDs, are used to manage the pain of rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune arthritis conditions. Medications in this class include:
- Arava (leflunomide)
- Trexall and Rheumatrex (methotrexate)
- Plaquenil (hydroxychloroquine )
- Cuprimine and Depen (penicillamine)
These drugs help to manage arthritis pain and symptoms by controlling abnormal immune system reactions.
Side effects may include:
- Liver damage
- Reduction in red blood cell production
- Damage to the lungs, intestines, mouth, or stomach
Biologic Medications for Arthritis
Biologic medicines are made with organic molecules. These are some of the newest arthritis medicines available and are used to treat rheumatoid arthritis. Names of some common drugs in this class, which are all given by injection, include:
- Humira (adalimumab)
- Enbrel (etanercept)
- Orencia (abatacept)
- Rituxan (rituximab)
- Remicade (infliximab)
These medications block an immune system protein that otherwise leads to painful inflammation.
Their side effects include:
- Increased risk of infection
- Symptoms of the flu
- Increased risk of tuberculosis
Finding Relief From Arthritis Pain
From pain-relieving pills to inflammation-reducing injections, arthritis medicines offer a wide range of arthritis symptom relief. Medications aren't the only treatment option available for arthritis, but they're often a mainstay for managing pain.
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