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What Drugs Are Used For Arthritis

Grading The Soe For Major Comparisons And Outcomes

Drug Treatment for Rheumatoid Arthritis

We will grade SOE based on the guidance established for the Evidence-based Practice Center Program.33 Developed to grade the overall strength of a body of evidence, this approach now incorporates five key domains: risk of bias , consistency, directness, precision of the evidence, and reporting bias. It also considers other optional domains that may be relevant for some scenarios, such as plausible confounding that would decrease the observed effect and strength of association or factors that would increase the strength of association .

Table 4 describes the grades of evidence that can be assigned. Grades reflect the strength of the body of evidence to answer the KQs on the comparative effectiveness, efficacy, and harms of the interventions in this review. Two reviewers will assess each domain for each key outcome, and differences will be resolved by consensus.

We will grade the SOE for the following outcomes, consistent with the prior report: disease activity, radiographic joint damage, functional capacity, quality of life and serious adverse effects.21

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What Is The Best Medication For Arthritis

Everyone will experience arthritis a little differently, and there isnt one medication that will work best for everyone. Your doctor can recommend or prescribe the right medication for you based on your individual symptoms and medical history. The following table lists some of the most popular arthritis medications your doctor might prescribe or recommend.

Drug name
  • Swelling or weight gain from water retention
  • Skin rash
  • Kidney problems

In addition to these side effects, arthritis medications may cause more serious side effects that could require medical attention. If you have any vision changes, mood or behavior changes, or severe stomach pain or vomiting, you should seek medical advice as soon as possible.

Arthritis medications can also cause allergic reactions that can be life-threatening. Signs of an allergic reaction include hives, difficulty breathing, and swelling of the face and throat. You should seek immediate medical attention if you believe youre having an allergic reaction.

This list of side effects is not comprehensive. The best way to learn more about other side effects you might experience from taking arthritis medications is to talk with your doctor.

What Are The Best Rheumatoid Arthritis Medications For Pain

Most of the medications used for rheumatoid arthritis provide relief from pain. However, depending on current disease activity, some may be more effective than others.

  • For acuteflare-ups, for example, short-term treatment with a corticosteroid, such as prednisone, may be highly beneficial.
  • If there is excessive inflammation, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory can address that symptom and also relieve pain.
  • Over-the-counter analgesics, such as acetaminophen, may be used for minor pain.
  • But for chronic, moderate-to-severe pain, an opioid analgesic would be more effective.
  • Pain and inflammation are both addressed by biological drugs which have the added benefit of altering disease activity.

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How Do Analgesics Work

Analgesics are a class of drugs referred to as painkillers by most people. The purpose of analgesics is to relieve the sensation of pain. When a patient senses pain, its because nerve endings are sending specific signals to the brain which results in the physical sensation. Analgesics interfere with the message connection between the nerve endings and the brain to block the feelings of pain.

Unlike NSAIDs, they do not relieve inflammation. And while DMARDs slow and stop disease progression, analgesics do not. Analgesics are only effective at relieving and dulling pain while patients wait for their other medications to begin working.

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What Is The Prognosis For People Who Have Rheumatoid Arthritis

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Although there is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis, there are many effective methods for decreasing the pain and inflammation and slowing down the disease process. Early diagnosis and effective treatment are very important.

Extensive research is being done to learn the cause of rheumatoid arthritis and the best methods of treatment.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 11/17/2017.


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The Importance Of Early Treatment

Remission is unlikely to occur without intervention.8 Bone erosions are detectable in 25% of people within three months of onset9 and in 70% by three years.10 Delaying treatment beyond the three months causes more joint destruction and a higher chance of requiring persistent DMARDs to maintain remission.11 Early DMARD therapy during this window of opportunity will more readily induce remission and delay progression.9

What Rheumatoid Arthritis Medications Are In Development

Rheumatoid arthritis treatment is an active area of research. In fact, according to the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, more than 50 drugs for rheumatoid arthritis are in various stages of clinical testing. Many of these are new biologics. Others target histamine receptors and glucocorticoid receptors.

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Side Effects Of Chemotherapy Drugs

Chemotherapy drugs may come with a number of side effects. Most RA treatments using chemotherapy employ a lower dose of the drugs, and the side effects may be less severe than normal. Side effects can include:

  • Hair loss
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea

Chemotherapy drugs suppress the immune system and decrease the number of white blood cells in the body, which can put you at an increased risk of infection. The exact risk depends on which drugs are used, the dosage, your age, and any other underlying health conditions.

Chemotherapy drugs also have the potential to increase your risk of developing cancer. This rarely happens with RA drugs such as Imuran, Cytoxan, and methotrexate, but all three have been linked to a risk of developing lymphoma . People with RA who take methotrexate are also more likely to develop lymphoma if they have been infected with the Epstein-Barr virus.

Chemotherapy drugs affect bone marrow cells, which are responsible for making new red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. With some treatments, your doctor or rheumatologist will run blood tests to check your blood cell counts.

Pregnancy Contraception And Lactation

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The management of rheumatoid arthritis before, during and after pregnancy can be challenging. Although many women will have an improvement in disease activity during pregnancy, remission is rare.17 Poor pregnancy outcomes occur more commonly with high disease activity and include miscarriage, prematurity and pre-eclampsia.17 With the exception of sulfasalazine and hydroxychloroquine, all DMARDs are considered either unsafe or of uncertain safety during pregnancy.18 Counselling on effective methods of contraception is essential to prevent unplanned pregnancy while taking teratogenic drugs.17 Planned pregnancy is preferable and allows time for appr opriate treatment changes to be made while optimising disease control. Certain DMARDs must be stopped at least 36 months before conception.18

During lactation the immunosuppressive effects of some DMARDs may affect the infant because of drug excretion into breast milk. Information on drugs and lactation can be found at United States National Institute of Health Lactmed or via local medicines information services.

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Diagnosis And Management Of Rheumatoid Arthritis


University of WisconsinMadison, Madison, Wisconsin

Am Fam Physician. 2005 Sep 15 72:1037-1047.

Patient information: See related handout on rheumatoid arthritis, written by the authors of this article.

Rheumatoid arthritis is characterized by persistent joint synovial tissue inflammation. Over time, bone erosion, destruction of cartilage, and complete loss of joint integrity can occur. Eventually, multiple organ systems may be affected.


Patients with rheumatoid arthritis should be treated as early as possible with DMARDs to control symptoms and delay disease progression.

DMARD = disease-modifying antirheumatic drug NSAID = nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug.

A = consistent, good-quality patient-oriented evidence B = inconsistent or limited-quality patient-oriented evidence C = consensus, disease-oriented evidence, usual practice, expert opinion, or case series. For information about the SORT evidence rating system, see page 983 or


Patients with rheumatoid arthritis should be treated as early as possible with DMARDs to control symptoms and delay disease progression.

DMARD = disease-modifying antirheumatic drug NSAID = nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug.

The 5 Main Classes Of Rheumatoid Arthritis Drugs

Rheumatoid arthritis is a complex disease. Perhaps not surprisingly, treatment can be complex as well. The five main classes of drugs used for RADMARDs, corticosteroids, biologics, NSAIDs, and analgesicseach play a different role. Some of these arthritis medications only relieve pain, some stop inflammation, and others address the disease process to prevent a flare-up of symptoms and halt disease progression.

RA treatment typically involves one or more of these medications to target different aspects of the disease. Your healthcare provider will consider your medical history, current symptoms, and your disease progression in determining the right type of arthritis treatment for you.

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How Is Osteoarthritis Treated

Treatment for osteoarthritis includes lifestyle changes and medications.

All patients with osteoarthritis should be enrolled in an exercise program because physical activity increases blood flow, and joints and muscles are supplied with more oxygen. Swimming, Tai Chi and weight-based exercises are usually suitable for people with osteoarthritis, although a physician should be consulted before starting any exercise program.

Weight loss can lower the risk of pain in weight-bearing joints and orthotics, devices that help to align joints – orthotic shoe inserts, splints, and braces can help with movement. Heat or cold therapy can also relieve joint swelling.

Medications for osteoarthritis may include:

  • Acetaminophen

Tumor Necrosis Factor Inhibitors

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Tumor necrosis factor alpha is a pro-inflammatory cytokine produced by macrophages and lymphocytes. It is found in large quantities in the rheumatoid joint and is produced locally in the joint by synovial macrophages and lymphocytes infiltrating the joint synovium. TNF is one of the critical cytokines that mediate joint damage and destruction due to its activities on many cells in the joint as well as effects on other organs and body systems. TNF antagonists were the first of the biological DMARDS to be approved for the treatment of RA. These drugs began to enter the market for rheumatoid arthritis in 1999 and are now considered a part the ACR recommendations for treatment of RA. There are currently five TNF inhibitors FDA approved for the treatment of RA etanercept , infliximab , adalimumab , certolizumab pegol , and golimumab . Etanercept is a soluble TNF receptor-Fc immunoglobulin fusion construct infliximab, adalimumab, and golimumab are monoclonal antibodies and certolizumab pegol is an anti-TNF antigen binding domain-polyethylene glycol construct. While differing in structure, the efficacy and safety of the drugs is similar across the class in reducing the signs and symptoms of RA, as well as in slowing or halting radiographic damage, when used either as monotherapy or in combination with methotrexate.

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Amplification In The Synovium

Once the generalized abnormal immune response has become established which may take several years before any symptoms occur plasma cells derived from B lymphocytes produce rheumatoid factors and ACPA of the IgG and IgM classes in large quantities. These activate macrophages through Fc receptor and complement binding, which is part of the intense inflammation in RA. Binding of an autoreactive antibody to the Fc receptors is mediated through the antibodys N-glycans, which are altered to promote inflammation in people with RA.

This contributes to local inflammation in a joint, specifically the synovium with edema, vasodilation and entry of activated T-cells, mainly CD4 in microscopically nodular aggregates and CD8 in microscopically diffuse infiltrates. Synovial macrophages and dendritic cells function as antigen-presenting cells by expressing MHC class II molecules, which establishes the immune reaction in the tissue.

Prescription Medications For Ra Include:

  • Corticosteroid drugs, also called oral steroids, are a common part of rheumatoid arthritis treatment regimen because they’re highly effective at reducing inflammation. The downside is that over time, the drug becomes less effective because your body adjusts to the anti-inflammatory effect. Decadron and methylprednisone are examples of oral steroids.Corticosteroids also come with the risk of bone thinning, bruising, weight gain, and high blood pressure.
  • COX-2 inhibitors, such as Celebrex, are a newer class of NSAIDs that reduce pain and inflammation but without the risk of stomach complications. These drugs are used mainly by people with moderate to severe rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs work differently than corticosteroid drugs. Instead of acting quickly but without a lasting effect, DMARDs slowly modify the disease. So slowly, in fact, that it may take several months for you to feel their effects. That’s why doctors often prescribe DMARDs within three months of your diagnosisso you’ll get the benefits as quickly as possible. DMARDs are also usually taken with an NSAIDthe NSAID treats the painful symptoms while the DMARD works to prevent joint damage. Methotrexate is among the most prescribed DMARDs.Many DMARDs come with serious side effects, usually involving blood-producing cells, the kidneys, and the liver. Regular tests are necessary when using a DMARD so your doctor can monitor any possible adverse effects.

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What Really Causes Arthritis

There are many kinds of arthritis and each has different causes. Osteoarthritis, the most common arthritis in the U.S., is known as wear and tear or older-age arthritis. Injuries, infections, birth defects and obesity are some causes of osteoarthritis. Many other types of arthritis, like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, are autoimmune diseases where the immune system mistakenly attacks the joints causing pain and inflammation. Other types of arthritis, like gout, are caused by inflammation due to microscopic crystals depositing in the joints.

What Are Risks And Side Effects Of Rheumatoid Arthritis

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  • Rheumatoid arthritis causes joint damage, leads to considerable disability, and shortens life span.
  • The disability may be so severe that individuals cannot work and movement and independent living are very limited.
  • Life span is shortened in people whose conditions do not respond well to treatment.
  • The risk of early death is increased by complications such as infections, cardiovascular disease, or gastrointestinal bleeding.
  • These complications may be due to rheumatoid arthritis or to side effects from the medications used to treat it.

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How Is Arthritis Diagnosed

The most common symptoms of arthritis are swollen, painful, and stiff joints. Your healthcare provider may diagnose you with arthritis based on your symptoms, but youll probably need additional tests to determine the exact type of arthritis you have. Here are some tests your physician may order:

  • Imaging scans: X-rays, MRIs, and CT scans can help show your doctor whats going on in your joints and bones.
  • Blood tests: A blood test can tell your doctor if you have certain antibodies that indicate a particular type of arthritis, like rheumatoid arthritis.

A primary care physician can diagnose arthritis, but you might be sent to a rheumatologist or orthopedic surgeon if you have severe symptoms. Your doctor may ask you some of the following questions to help confirm a diagnosis:

  • Do you have a family history of arthritis?
  • In what joints are you experiencing pain, swelling, or stiffness?
  • Are you currently taking any medications?
  • Does anything make your symptoms feel better?

What Are Rheumatoid Arthritis Treatments And Medications

Knowing as much as possible about rheumatoid arthritis helps people learn to cope with the problems it causes. Exercise can help to improve and sustain range of motion, increase muscle strength, and reduce pain. Using joints and tendons efficiently can reduce stress and tension on the joints.

Drug therapy for rheumatoid arthritis has improved so much that it can now stop disease progression, preventing joint damage and loss of function. The earlier that treatment is started, the better the chance to slow disease progression and prevent damage and loss of function.

People who are severely disabled by rheumatoid arthritis may require orthopedic surgery for joint reconstruction or replacement with manufactured joints . Pain relievers may be used occasionally. Such drugs include acetaminophen , tramadol , or narcotic-containing pain relievers. These drugs do not reduce joint swelling, deformity, or damage.

  • The precise cause of rheumatoid arthritis is unknown.
  • Although infection has been considered likely, no bacterial or viral organism has been proven responsible.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis is also associated with a number of autoimmune reactions , but whether the autoimmune reactions cause rheumatoid arthritis, or rheumatoid arthritis causes the autoimmune reactions, is not known.
  • A significant genetic factor exists in most patients with rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Periodontitis, smoking, and the bacteria in the bowel have all been associated with causing rheumatoid arthritis.

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The Significance Of Inflammation

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The cytokine milieu in rheumatoid arthritis influences a multitude of physiological processes. These include promoting the influx of immune effector cells into the joint synovium, and activation of osteoclasts, chondrocytes and fibroblasts.3 There is a positive feedback loop that reinforces the inflammatory process. Unabated, this process results in joint pain and destruction, ultimately causing deformity and disability.

Chronic inflammation also contributes to an increased risk of myocardial infarction, stroke and death. A Canadian population-based prospective cohort study reported an absolute increase in cardiovascular events of 5.7 per 1000 person-years in patients with rheumatoid arthritis compared to those without.4 The use of disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs to attenuate the inflammatory process has been shown to prevent joint erosions and reduce pain, cardiovascular morbidity and mortality.3,5

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