7 Treatment Options for Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that causes pain and inflammation in your joints. The condition is chronic and there is no cure. However, in recent years, new treatment options are providing a much better quality of life for people living with RA.

Treatment for the condition is comprehensive and focuses on:

  • stopping the progression of the disease
  • avoiding joint damage
  • reducing daily pain
  • helping you stay active

Doctors typically recommend a combination of medications, physical therapy, and lifestyle changes to help manage RA. Sometimes, surgery and other treatments might be needed

1. Medications used to treat rheumatoid arthritis

There are multiple types of medication used to treat RA. You’ll likely take medications to slow the progression of the disease and reduce inflammation and pain. The exact medications will depend on the severity of your condition, how you respond to medications, and your overall health.

Medications that slow the progression of rheumatoid arthritis

Medications that slow the progression of RA can help reduce your symptoms while preventing joint damage and disability. Options include:

  • Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs). DMARDs help prevent joint damage and are normally part of the initial treatment of RA. It can take a few months to feel the full effects of a DMARD, and you and your doctor might need to try a couple of options before you find the right one for you. Common DMARDs include methotrexate, leflunomide (Arava), hydroxychloroquine, and sulfasalazine (Azulfidine).
  • Biologic treatments. Biologic treatments are given by injection and usually in combination with a DMARD when DMARDs have not been effective on their own. Biologic treatments are a newer form of treatment that can prevent your immune system from attacking your joints. Common biologic treatments include etanercept (Enbrel) and infliximab (Remicade).
  • Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitors. JAK inhibitors are a new type of DMARD that can be helpful for people who can’t take traditional DMARDs or who didn’t see improvements from traditional DMARDs. Common JAK inhibitors include tofacitinib (Xeljanz) and baricitinib (Olumiant).

Medications to reduce the inflammation and pain of rheumatoid arthritis

Many people with RA also take medications to help manage pain. You might take these medications temporarily, during a flare-up, or every day depending on your condition and the treatment plan you discuss with your doctor. Pain-relieving options include:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). NSAIDs reduce inflammation and relieve pain. Your doctor might recommend over-the-counter NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen or naproxen sodium, or might prescribe stronger NSAIDs.
  • COX-2 inhibitors. COX-2 inhibitors, such as celecoxib (Celebrex), also reduce inflammation and pain. They’re intended to have fewer side effects and be safer for daily use than NSAIDs.
  • Steroids. Steroids can reduce inflammation and help relieve pain. You can take steroids as an injection or tablet. Steroids can have serious side effects and are only meant for short-term use.

2. Physical and occupational therapy