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Rheumatology Medications

A number of types of drugs are used to treat arthritis and connective tissue disease. These generally fall into the following groups:

Rheumatology Medications FAQs

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Disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs)

Disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) are used mainly to treat inflammatory arthritis but also some other rheumatic diseases including lupus and other diseases in which there is inflammation of the blood vessels (vasculitis). This group includes sulfasalazine, gold, antimalarials such as hydroxychloroquine and immunosuppressives. Penicillamine is still used very occasionally.

DMARDs work by reducing the activity of the arthritis, thus improving the symptoms of pain, swelling and stiffness. They may take several weeks to be effective and you should continue with all other prescribed medication until advised otherwise. Side effects sometimes occur, particularly in the first few weeks of treatment. The most common include diarrhoea, nausea, rashes, headaches, dizziness, bruising and mouth ulcers. You will be fully counselled regarding possible side effects prior to starting any new medication and given written information to support this. Often side effects are mild and resolve spontaneously, however, occasionally side effects may be serious and it is important to seek advice from the rheumatology team or from your own doctor (GP) if you experience any side effects, whether listed or not.

DMARDs can affect the blood and the liver or kidneys and regular blood tests and/or urine tests may be necessary. Results of all blood tests are reviewed by the rheumatology team and are also copied to your GP. If problems occur you may be advised to stop the drug responsible, or to reduce the dose to prevent more serious side effects occurring. Some drugs have other potential side effects, for example hydroxychloroquine occasionally causes visual disturbances so an eye check is usually carried out when you first start treatment and repeated periodically whilst you remain on this drug.

Further information about specific DMARDs and their side effects is available from the Arthritis Research Campaign.

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