Six Medications That Combat Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a potentially debilitating disease that occurs when your immune system attacks the healthy tissues of your joints, causing pain and inflammation. Whereas the most common form of arthritis — osteoarthritis — is related to aging or overuse and tends to be limited, rheumatoid arthritis attacks many joints simultaneously.

In addition, in RA, the autoimmune attacks and resulting inflammation affects other tissues, too. If you have RA, you may have an assortment of symptoms, including:

All of the symptoms arise from the inflammation that occurs when your body mistakenly attacks healthy tissues. Although treatment used to focus on alleviating symptoms, such as pain and swelling, rheumatologists now try to stop the attacks with disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs).

At Osteoporosis & Rheumatology Center of Tampa Bay, LLC, our expert rheumatologist Jeffrey Miller, MD, often begins your RA treatment with DMARDs to try to slow the progression of your disease. Below are the six DMARDs that could become your first-line defense against RA, either as monotherapy or in combination.


Sulfasalazine can slow down the rapid progression of RA. This drug also lessens pain and inflammatory swelling. You start at a low dose, then increase it over the first four weeks. Sulfasalazine usually takes about 12 weeks to modify symptoms.


Methotrexate is the most prescribed drug to treat RA. It combines well with other drugs to slow the disease’s progression. Methotrexate also reduces inflammation to reduce current symptoms and prevent flares. You may need to take it for up to 12 weeks before you notice a change in your condition. 


Hydroxychloroquine is most appropriate for mild cases of RA. It works by modifying your body’s autoimmune response, essentially slowing down disease progression. Rheumatologists often combine hydroxychloroquine with other drugs, including methotrexate. It may take several months to work. 


Leflunomide can be used to treat moderate to severe cases of RA. It’s usually given as a solo therapy, rather than in combination with other drugs. Rheumatologists often turn to leflunomide if methotrexate fails to control the disease.


As with other DMARTs, azathioprine successfully controls a number of autoimmune conditions, such as lupus and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). It can also help manage inflammation and symptoms in some cases of RA.


Cyclosporine suppresses your body’s abnormal immune response to decrease inflammation and prevent joint damage. Cyclosporine slows the progression of RA.

If you have severe disease, DMARDs alone may not be sufficient to control your symptoms. In such cases, Dr. Miller may recommend a class of drugs called biologic response modifiers to modify your RA so you can feel and function more optimally. He may also recommend physical therapy, counseling, and even surgery to restore your joint function.

You don’t need to suffer from the unrelenting progress of RA and its symptoms. Find relief by undergoing an extensive evaluation and getting a treatment program that’s custom-designed for your disease and symptom profile. Call our Tampa, Florida office today at 813-336-3793 or reach out with our online contact form

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