Arthritis is usually a chronic condition that needs long-term treatment. Some people do go into remission – meaning they'll be pain-free for a while. However, if you are experiencing pain, it needs to be addressed. Fortunately, there are medications that can help.
For rheumatoid arthritis, doctors often recommend medications such as:
- nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs – e.g., ASA, ibuprofen, naproxen)
- disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs – e.g., hydroxychloroquine, oral and injectable gold, sulfasalazine, d-penicillamine, methotrexate)
- biologics (e.g., adalimumab, anarinka, etanercept, infliximab)
- corticosteroids (e.g., prednisone)
These medications can help with the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, including pain and inflammation. The NSAIDs and corticosteroids work to manage the symptoms and relieve inflammation, while the DMARDs and biologics reduce the signs and symptoms and help slow the progression of the disease.
As with all medications, there are side effects associated with the treatments for rheumatoid arthritis. Depending on your medical history, some of the medications may not be suitable for you. It is important to check with your doctor or pharmacist about what side effects to watch for and what you can do to manage them. As for any medication, ask your doctor or pharmacist about possible side effects and what you can do to prevent or minimize them.
Besides medications, physical therapy might be recommended to keep your joints as flexible and strong as possible.
To treat osteoarthritis, doctors take a slightly different approach because the pain doesn't have the same cause as in rheumatoid arthritis. Medications with anti-inflammatory effects (such as NSAIDs and corticosteroids) are used, but in many cases the pain can be managed with acetaminophen, which isn't an anti-inflammatory. As well, steroid injections directly into the painful joints might be helpful.
Other therapies include the natural health products glucosamine and chondroitin. These take a while to work, often up to 6 weeks, and may not be appropriate for certain people (for example, those with diabetes).
Other non-pharmaceutical approaches include physical therapy, wearing braces that stabilize the joint, and preventing movement. Also, losing weight can help relieve stress on weight-bearing joints such as the hips and knees. In more severe cases, surgery might be necessary.
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