Medications remain the most effective method of treating the symptoms and stopping the progression of rheumatoid arthritis. Depending on the stage of disease development and patient’s personal health factor, various types of drugs can be prescribed or advised. Most of the basic pain relief and anti-inflammatory drugs are OTC (over the counter), meaning you can freely buy arthritis relief drugs of this type without requiring any type of documentation. Other drugs, directly involved in the treatment and suppression of RA are prescription only; they are only issued and administered under direct supervision of your doctor. This is done to avoid inflicting unintended damage to the patient, since these “heavier” drugs carry a risk of causing dangerous side effects if used inadequately. If you were prescribed with these types of drugs, it is very important to keep following the determined schedule and dosage, without stopping or changing the regimen.
Over The Counter Medications
These medications are usually prescribed first, if the patient requires relief from mild pain and inflammation. Although not as much as prescription drugs, they do carry some risk of side effects, and should be used with caution. There are several types of these drugs, intended to negate various symptoms in various situations and conditions.
- NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), such as anaprox, naprelan and naprosyn, are the most common drugs advised to use for rheumatoid arthritis patients. Most of them are OTC, only a few are prescription only. When taken at a low dose NSAIDs help reduce discomfort and pain from various causes, such as headaches, muscle and bone injury, fever and minor pain. When taken at a higher dose NSAIDs effectively reduce the pain and inflammation caused by rheumatoid arthritis.
- COX-2 inhibitors – help to reduce pain and inflammation, and tend to have less chance of producing gastrointestinal side-effects then other NSAIDs. They are, however, deemed more dangerous because less clinical tests have been made to prove their safely. COX-2 inhibitors are usually advised when other OTCs have proven ineffective.
- Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is a drug aimed at instant pain relief, and is best used over short periods of time. If used carefully, it does a great job without any serious risk for the patient; however, larger doses or extended treatment often leads to serious side effects and dangerous consequences for the patient’s health.
Prescription Only Medications
While OTC drugs may effectively reduce the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, they do not contribute much to the treatment. To stop the progression of RA and have a better chance of achieving remission, more serious medications must be involved.
- Disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) – are a standard option to treat rheumatoid arthritis. They are usually prescribed in combination with biologic DMARDs and other drugs to increase effectiveness. Methotrexate is the most common DMARD used against RA. It works by reducing the metabolism of rapidly dividing cells. Other examples of DMARDs are Minocycline, Cyclosporine, Leflunomide, and Sulfasalazine.
- Corticosteroids (Steroids) – rapidly reduce inflammation and pain, can be either used orally or injected directly into the afflicted joint. While steroids do produce the desired effect in record amounts of time, they are usually not used for long, as the adverse side effects can be very harmful.
- Biologic Response Modifiers (Biologic DMARDs) – medications produced from living cells. These drugs disable certain circuits in the immune system that incite joint inflammation and pain. Biologic DMARDs can greatly improve the patient’s condition, but on their own they only stop the further progression of the disease and joint damage, they do not cure the cause of RA.
In cases when meditational treatment is no longer effective, or when the joints have been damaged beyond the point of natural recovery, surgery can be used to help restore flexibility and allow joint movement. On later stages of its progression, rheumatoid arthritis may cause permanent damage to the structure of bones, adjacent to the afflicted joint, completely disabling movement. Arthroplasty can be done to repair such a joint, restoring the bones to resemble their natural outlook. In more severe cases, the joint can be replaced completely by either a natural transplant or an artificial joint. Using the latest technological achievements, the artificial implant can be just as comfortable to use as a perfectly healthy human joint, without any risk of further damage from arthritis or any other similar disease.
Artificial implants will serve at least 50 years before they need to be replaced.