Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disorder that typically affects the small joints of the hands and feet. It is an autoimmune disorder that affects the lining of your joints, causing painful swelling, bone erosion and joint deformity, and occurs when your immune system mistakenly attacks your own body's tissues.
While there is no known cure for this disorder, there have been a number of new classes of rheumatoid arthritis medications made available recently that can help treat and improve outcomes for most patients. These treatments include medications that aim at reducing pain, and preventing deformities and loss of function. The goal is to help arthritis patients maintain a productive and active life.
There are three basic classes of drugs typically used to treat rheumatoid arthritis: non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents (NSAIDs), corticosteroids, and disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs).
Asprin, ibuprofen and naproxen are some examples of NSAIDs. These drugs are used to reduce acute inflammation, decrease pain, and improve function. NSAIDs do not change the progression of rheumatoid arthritis, or prevent degeneration of the joints.
Corticosteroids such as predinisone and methylprenisolone can help reduce inflammation and regulat the immune system. These drugs are useful in treating the early stages of rheumatoid arthritis and are useful for patients that are having a hard time controlling the disease with NSAIDs and DMARDs.
DMARDs are the only drugs that have been shown to improve not only the symptoms, but also the outcome of rheumatoid arthritis. Because cartilage damage and bone erosions occur within the first two years of the disease, DMARD agents are typically prescribed as soon as a diagnosis is confirmed.
The first DMARD drug typically prescribed is Methotrexate. This medication begins working rapidly, helping to reduce the signs and symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, as well as slowing or halting damage. Other DMARDs prescribed include Hydroxychloroquine, Sulfasalazine and Leflunomide.
Rheumatoid arthritis is almost three times more common in women than in men. It generally occurs between 40 and 60 years of age, according to the Mayo Clinic. While there is no cure, there are now numerous drugs that doctors can prescribe to treat the pain associated with the disease and slow the progression and degeneration of the joints.