What Is the Safest Drug for Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Ask a Doctor

I just received a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis, and my rheumatologist wants to put me on a couple of different kinds of pills. I’m already taking statins for cholesterol and a daily aspirin. Now I have to have this alphabet soup of DMARDs and NSAIDs and God knows what else? I’m really worried about taking all these medications, despite the assurances of my doctor. What’s the safest drug for rheumatoid arthritis?

Doctor’s Response

Patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) may be prescribed different types of medications to treat their symptoms. There is no one drug that is the safest or best – all drugs have benefits and side effects.

The main types of drugs used to treat RA include:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) - used to relieve pain and reduce inflammation. Side effects can include gastrointestinal bleeding and an increased risk of heart disease
  • Traditional disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) – used reduce inflammation, reduce or prevent joint damage, and preserve joint structure and function.
  • Biologic DMARDs – these work faster than traditional DMARDs, but biologic DMARDs can interfere with the immune system's ability to fight infection.
  • Steroids – used for strong antiinflammatory effects. Side effects of steroids include weight gain, worsening diabetes, promotion of cataracts in the eyes, thinning of bones (osteopenia and osteoporosis), and an increased risk of infection.

Talk to your doctor about the medication that is right for you.

For more information, read our full medical article on rheumatoid arthritis.

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References
PJW Venables, MA, MB BChir, MD, FRCP. Patient education: Rheumatoid arthritis treatment (Beyond the Basics). 20 April 2017. 2 January 2019 .