Medication Treatments

For many people living with arthritis, medications are a critical part of their successful treatment plan. While there are no known cures for arthritis, many effective treatments exist, especially for inflammatory arthritis. These medications can, in some cases, actually stop the disease process that causes joint damage and disability. With the advent of new medication treatments, arthritis patients and their health care providers have an expanded range of options available to them when making decisions about an appropriate treatment plan.

Until the mid 1980s, arthritis treatment options were quite scarce. Often, doctors would take a slow approach to treatment, putting patients on pain-relievers like acetaminophen (Tylenol®) or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for a long period of time before trying more aggressive treatments.

We now know that in many forms of inflammatory arthritis there is a "window of opportunity" at the beginning of the disease process when appropriate treatment can actually stop the progression of the disease and prevent joint damage and disability.

Today, the approach to the treatment of arthritis, particularly for inflammatory arthritis, has changed. Instead of having patients struggle on a medication that simply provides pain relief, doctors, backed by scientific evidence, have started to treat patients early and aggressively, with a view to reducing medications once the patient goes into remission.

Essentially, there are two categories of medications. It should be noted that the medications in the second category, those that treat the underlying disease process, are used only in some forms of inflammatory arthritis.

  1. Medications to treat symptoms
    • non-steroidal anti-inflammatories ("NSAIDs")
    • pain relievers, like acetaminophen (Tylenol®)
    • steroids
    • opioids
  2. Medications to treat the underlying disease
    • disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs)
    • targeted synthetic molecules (tsDMARDs) *
    • biologic DMARDs, also known as biologic response modifiers (boDMARDs) *
    • biologic biosimilar DMARDS, also known as “biosimilars” (bsDMARDs) *
*These medications are considered to be advanced therapies for inflammatory arthritis. To learn more about the transition to this type of treatment, take the on-line JointHealth™ Education course: Advanced therapies for IA

JointHealth™ has put together a medications chart, outlining many of the medications used to treat arthritis. The chart can be viewed here.

For credible information on arthritis treatments and medications see the following websites: