Rheumatoid Arthritis Medications

Advancements in medical technology now make it possible for many rheumatoid arthritis patients to receive medical treatments allowing them to continue living a high quality of life. A variety of rheumatoid arthritis medications specifically helps patients reduce inflammatory symptoms and alleviate chronic pain.

Treating Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis has no cure; however, there are some highly effective treatment methods. These treatment methods help to achieve several goals for rheumatoid arthritis patients.

The main goals of rheumatoid arthritis treatments include:

  • Stop inflammation
  • Manage symptoms
  • Reduce pain
  • Achieve long periods of remission
  • Improve quality of life through better well-being
  • Prevent damage to joints, bones, and cartilage
  • Avoid future health complications to heart, lungs, and other organs

These goals are achieved through a number of different options including rheumatoid arthritis medications as the primary treatment option.

Rheumatoid Arthritis Medications

Rheumatoid arthritis medications have greatly evolved over time as a result of the ongoing need for treating rheumatoid arthritis patients and their varying symptoms.

There are many different types of rheumatoid arthritis medications including:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs)
  • Biologics
  • JAK Inhibitors
  • Steroidal medications

Some of these drug types can be used in conjunction with each other while others are pursued when certain rheumatoid arthritis medications fail to work in certain patients.


Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications are used to ease the swelling symptoms rheumatoid arthritis patients feel. If swelling is reduced, it ultimately alleviates pain as well. This is crucial for allowing patients to maintain their quality of life.

The two most common types of NSAIDs are ibuprofen and naproxen, which are most well-known and commonly available by the brand names of Advil and Aleve respectively. There are some other NSAIDs that are available over-the-counter or through a doctor’s prescription.

Some patients may respond differently to these types of medications and can potentially experience side effects in their liver and stomach. Many patients respond well to taking NSAIDs though they are a short term solution and aren’t meant to control disease course.


In order to reduce disease activity, doctors prescribe patients with rheumatoid arthritis medications known as disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs. These drugs are designed to modify the disease’s course.

DMARDs modify the course of rheumatoid arthritis by interrupting the immune attacks that cause the inflammation in the joint tissue. Often times DMARDs work effectively on patients if taken during the first few months of diagnosis. Some patients may find that DMARDs take up to six months to start working.

One of the most commonly known DMARDs is called methotrexate. There are others as well like leflunomide, hydroxychloroquine, and sulfasalazine, which are often prescribed to rheumatoid arthritis patients.

Patients taking DMARDs may be more susceptible to infections as these drugs can weaken their immune systems. Rheumatoid arthritis patients taking DMARDs must be alert to signs of infection and maintain healthy habits as preventive measures.


Biologics, or biological response modifiers, are a type of DMARD. Biologics alleviate rheumatoid arthritis symptoms by targeting the part of the immune system that attacks joint tissue and causes inflammation.

Biologics are also found to work effectively on moderate to severe cases of rheumatoid arthritis. Even when other treatments have not shown to work, often times biologics prove to be effective for many patients.

Biologics can be taken in conjunction with other DMARDs like methotrexate. Biologics may be more fast-acting than traditional DMARDs as well. However, like DMARDs, biologics can also weaken patients’ immune systems and leave them susceptible to infections.

This form of medication is only taken by injection, unlike the others which are typically oral medications. Some of the most common brand names of rheumatoid arthritis biologics include Humira, Amjevita, Rituxan, Orencia, and many more.

Biologics are a newer form of rheumatoid arthritis medication and so the long-term side effects, if any, are unknown. However, patients have reported that biologics can cause pain and rashes at the injection site which may be due to an allergic reaction.

JAK Inhibitors

The newest form of DMARD is the immune inhibitor known as JAK inhibitors. These medications block the Janus kinase (JAK) pathways, which cause immune responses that trigger the joint inflammation. JAK inhibitors are effective at alleviating symptoms in moderate to severe cases of rheumatoid arthritis.JAK inhibitors are also taken in cases where the patient can’t tolerate traditional DMARDs.

The brand name for the new JAK inhibitors is Tofacitinib, which is an oral medication taken twice daily. JAK inhibitors, like traditional DMARDs and biologics, can leave the patient more susceptible to infection.

Because it is a newer drug recently approved by the FDA in 2012, JAK inhibitor medications require ongoing studies. Experts will continue to evaluate its safety, side effects, and overall long-term effectiveness in controlling rheumatoid arthritis symptoms.

Steroidal Medications

In some cases, doctors may recommend steroidal medications that are fast-acting anti-inflammatory treatments. These medications are used to control inflammation while patients wait for NSAIDs and DMARDs to take effect.

They are, however, extremely potent and only used as short-term treatments for managing symptoms and controlling pain. Doctors use a corticosteroid like prednisone typically in low doses.

Rheumatoid Arthritis Medication Outcomes

There are three primary strategies that doctors follow when treating patients using rheumatoid arthritis medications.

These treatment strategies include:

  • Aggressively treating symptoms as early as possible
  • Targeting remission to eliminate signs of inflammation for as long as possible
  • Tightly controlling disease activity to keep it to a minimum and preventing further joint damage

Rheumatoid arthritis medications, combined with other treatment methods, can allow many patients to restore their quality of living and go on to live without chronic pain.

The ideal outcome with rheumatoid arthritis medications is that the patient achieves remission and no longer experiences symptoms caused by inflammation. If patients can reduce the frequency of flare-ups and increase their periods of remission then the treatment is considered effective in managing the disease progression.