Types of RA medications
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) has been treated for many years, with a variety of medicines. Each generation of treatment has changed the way doctors treat RA. In recent years, exciting new therapies have become available that have brought improvement to the signs and symptoms of people living with RA.
RA therapies fit into groups depending on how they work in the body. Each represents a step forward in the treatment of RA. Keep in mind that all medications have side effects, and should be used after discussion with a doctor or other healthcare professional.
Analgesics — Also known as painkillers. Analgesics, such as acetaminophen, provide pain relief. They usually come as pills.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) — Some of the first medications available, NSAIDs are usually given as pills and have been used for decades to treat pain and inflammation of all different causes. These medications, such as ibuprofen or naproxen, are often given as initial treatment to relieve RA symptoms.
Steroids — Steroids can reduce inflammation from RA but have limited ability to reduce the joint damage caused by RA. Steroids may be injected directly into a joint to relieve severe pain, but can also be taken as pills to help relieve overall symptoms. Prednisone is a common steroid used to treat RA.
Disease modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) — DMARDs limit inflammation and reduce the signs and symptoms of RA. They do this by working on the immune system. In the past, DMARDs were used after trying NSAIDs, but are now increasingly used first, in combination with NSAIDs and other medications, depending on the severity of the disease. DMARDs, such as methotrexate, can prevent joint damage and have the potential to keep the disease from getting worse over time. DMARDs can be taken both as pills and by injection.
Biologic DMARDs — The newest group of drugs used for treating RA are called biologic DMARDs. They are a type of DMARD produced from living cells. They work on the immune system to limit inflammation and reduce the signs and symptoms of RA. The science used to develop a biologic DMARD is very technologically advanced.
Biologic DMARDs are specifically designed to help keep the immune system from attacking the body. There are two main types of biologics. One targets certain white blood cells, which the immune system uses to fight harmful events. The other targets substances in the immune system called cytokines, which communicate with and organize white blood cells. Each biologic DMARD works to keep the immune system from attacking the body.
Biologic DMARDs are currently given in two ways. Some are injected under the skin, like other shots you might get in your doctor’s office. Biologic DMARDs are also given intravenously by a doctor or nurse. A small needle delivers medication directly into your vein. This process is known as an infusion. Each method has its own pros and cons. Speak with your doctor to determine which method is best for you.
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Glossary Of Terms
Substances in the blood that communicate with white blood cells. More...
Delivery of liquid medication through a needle directly into a vein. More...
Like other shots you might get in your doctor's office. Liquid medication is given through a needle either under the skin (subcutaneous) or into a joint. More...