Rheumatoid Arthritis Medications: What Works Best?

rheumatoid arthritis medications

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Rheumatoid arthritis is a kind of chronic arthritis that is ongoing and occurs in joints. This type of arthritis specifically tends to occur in joints found in the hands, wrists, and knees. People who have rheumatoid arthritis experience joint pain and swelling. Joint pain makes it difficult to move and function throughout everyday activity. However, there are different kinds of rheumatoid arthritis medications that can help improve joint function and reduce joint pain. Some rheumatoid arthritis medications and treatment are intended to slow and even stop the disease process involved in joint damage.

For more information concerning the different types of medications for rheumatoid arthritis, keep reading the article below. Also, make sure to speak to your doctor if you have any questions or concerns.

Different Types of Medications

There are different types of medications and treatment options for people who have rheumatoid arthritis. Taking medications early on can help improve the long-term outcome, which is why it is important to speak to your doctor as soon as possible about treatment options. There are five main medication types: NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), DMARDs (disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs), biologics, JAK inhibitors, and corticosteroids. Below we will examine each in detail:


NSAIDs relieve pain and reduce inflammation. You can get different types of over-the-counter NSAIDs, such as various kinds of ibuprofen including Advil or Motrin IB or naproxen sodium (Aleve). If you require stronger NSAIDs, you have the option to get a prescription. Different NSAIDs should not be combined. Also, do not combine over-the-counter versions with prescribed NSAIDs. There may be side effects as well. Side effects include ringing in the ears, stomach pain, liver and kidney damage, and/or heart problems.


Unlike NSAIDs, DMARDs are used either alone or in combination. DMARDs slow down the process of rheumatoid arthritis by modifying the immune system. In addition to slowing down the progression of rheumatoid arthritis, DMARDs also protects joints and tissues from permanent damage. There are several common kinds of DMARDs, such as methotrexate (including Trexall, Otrexup, and Rasuvo), leflunomide (including Arava), hydroxychloroquine (including Plaquenil), and sulfasalazine (including Azulfidine). Side effects from DMARDs can involve liver damage, lung infections, and/or bone marrow suppression. It is important to note that methotrexate should be taken once a week, not daily.


Biologic agents, also known as biologic response modifiers, are a newer class of DMARDs. These include: abatacept, adalimumab, anakinra, certolizumab, etanercept, golimumab, infliximab, rituximab, tocilizumab, and tofacitinib. Unfortunately, these types of drugs can increase the risk of infections. However, they are able to target specific parts of the immune system that prompts inflammation. DMARDs can be combined and biologic DMARDs are more effective when it is taken with a nonbiologic DMARD (methotrexate). Make sure to correctly store biologic drugs, especially because most require refrigeration.

JAK Inhibitors

JAK inhibitors, also known as Janus Kinase inhibitors, are another option that helps stop the imflammatory process. This option directly targets the JAK enzymes. JAK enzymes can cause inflammation by binding to X Cells. However, when JAK inhibitors bind to the JAK enzymes they prevent the X Cells from triggering inflammation. Tofacitinib was the first JAK inhibitor, and is known as Xeljanz and Xeljanz XR.

Corticosteroids (Steroids)

Corticosteroid medications help reduce inflammation and pain. They also help slow down the process of joint damage. Corticosteroids help relieve acute symptoms. Once the symptoms are relieved, you can eventually get off of the medication, such as prednisone. It is important to note that you should not immediately stop taking corticosteroids. The process of getting off corticosteroids involves gradually tapering the dosage of the drug. Sudden discontinuation of corticosteroid medications can create severe withdrawal symptoms.

How to Find the Right Treatment Option

In order to find the right option for treatment, you need to have a discussion with your doctor. It is very important to openly speak with your doctor about your condition. You also need to let your doctor know the exact medications you are taking. Additionally, it is important to follow the directions on the drug’s label in order to treat your symptoms correctly and efficiently.

Therapy and surgery are more treatment options, depending on your condition. Physical therapy helps keep joints flexible and allows you to learn how to put less pressure on your joints. Surgery is another option if medications fail. Rheumatoid arthritis surgery usually involves synovectomy, tendon repair, joint fusion, or total joint replacement. If the medications are not working, surgery may be an important option for you. However, surgery does have risks, which include infection, pain, and bleeding. Make sure to contact your doctor for a second opinion and to find out more information about how to treat rheumatoid arthritis.