At its best arthritis can be a nuisance. At its worst, it can be debilitating. The kind of medication options available to you will be determined by your diagnosis. Rheumatoid arthritis will require different drugs from psoriatic arthritis. Before you set out to treat your arthritis you may want to see a specialist such as a rheumatologist. Your specialist can help alert you to new and improved treatments and advise you on side effects to expect. We’ve compiled a list of types of drugs that are used in the treatment of arthritis.
Drugs designed to relieve pain often delivered orally. Over-the-counter options include acetaminophen (Tylenol). Opioid analgesics are available with a prescription. Opioids are also referred to as narcotics, these medications are derived from naturally occurring and man-made opioids. These drugs are fast and effective at providing pain relief. Side effects can include feeling foggy and drowsy, itchiness, nausea. Over time patients using opioids to relieve chronic pain will develop a tolerance. Opioids can also be addictive.
Also referred to as biologic response modifiers, medications genetically engineered from a living organism to simulate the body’s response to infection.
There are four classes of biologics. They are usually prescribed when traditional disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) have not worked. These are expensive drugs and are not recommended for use in children and/or pregnant women. Types include TNF-A inhibitors, B-cell inhibitors, interleukin (IL) inhibitors, and selective co-stimulation modulators. They each come with their own side effects and risks. A specialist should advise in the administering of biologics.
Sometimes called glucocorticoids, these are medications that mimic the hormone cortisol which is produced by the adrenal glands.
These medications can be given topically via cream or ointment, orally, or by injection. Injections may be administered directly into a vein or muscle, joint or bursa, or around tendons and soft tissue areas.
These medications decrease inflammation and reduce immune system activity.
Disease-Modifying Antirheumatic Drugs (DMARDs)
Slow or stop the inflammatory process that damages joints and internal organs.
Frequently used in patients with rheumatoid arthritis, DMARDs vary in strength and side effects. Hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil) and sulfasalazine (Azulfidine) are mild DMARDs that usually cause fewer side effects. When side effects do occur they generally affect the eyes so patients are advised to see an ophthalmologist annually.
General side effects from DMARDs include stomachs upset such as nausea, vomiting or diarrhea, liver problems, and blood problems. If side effects occur they can be treated with other medications or complementary treatments.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
Used to relieve pain and inflammation from arthritis.NSAIDs may also be used to lower fevers, ease toothaches, and relieve muscle aches.NSAIDs like Ibuprofen are available over-the-counter. NSAIDs block COX-1 and COX-2 enzymes which influence blood clotting and stomach lining health and inflammation that leads to pain.
Side effects of NSAIDs include stomach pain, heartburn, diarrhea, and constipation. NSAIDs may interfere with bone healing so should be avoided in patients undergoing joint replacement surgery.