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Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) Medications

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Rheumatoid arthritis overview

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a disease in which the body's immune system attacks its own joints. This results in pain, swelling and potentially permanent damage. About 1.5 million people in the United States have RA and it affects women far more than men. RA should not be confused with osteoarthritis (OA) which is joint pain resulting from wearing down of cartilage – most commonly in the knees and hips. By contrast, RA commonly affects smaller joints, such as in the fingers and toes.

Rheumatoid arthritis medications list


Analgesics, or painkillers, are a staple of RA treatment. Mild-to-moderate RA pain can usually be treated with non-opioid analgesics. But for severe pain, opioids and opioid combinations are more effective. That increased effectiveness does come with the potential for side effects, including drowsiness and constipation.

Non-Opioid Medications

Combination Products: Opioids plus Other Analgesics

Opoids (single ingredients)

Opioid Agonists/Antagonists

Anti-Inflammatory Medications

This class of drugs is also known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). They work by inhibiting and/or interfering with chemicals in the body which cause inflammation. The most common drawback to NSAID use is their propensity to cause stomach and gastrointestinal bleeding.

  • Aspirin
  • Celecoxib (Celebrex)
  • Diclofenac
  • Diclofenac/Misoprostol (Arthrotect)
  • Diflunisal
  • Etodolac
  • Ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil)
  • Indomethacin (Indocin)
  • Ketoprofen
  • Nabumetone
  • Naproxen (Naprosyn, Anaprox, Aleve)
  • Naproxen/Esomeprazole (Vimovo)
  • Naproxen/Lansoprazole (Prevacid NapraPAC)
  • Oxaprozin (Daypro)
  • Piroxicam (Feldene)
  • Salsalate
  • Sulindac
  • Tolmetin

Biologic Agents

Biological drugs are proteins manufactured using recombinant DNA technology. They are immunosuppressants that target and block the action of cells or chemicals that enable the immune system to cause inflammation and other symptoms of RA. Biological agents are called disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) because by suppressing components of the immune system they reduce symptoms and reverse the course of RA.

Janus Kinase (JAKs) Inhibitor

JAK inhibitors are the newest class of drugs used to treat RA. They work by blocking Janus kinase JAKs) enzymes located within stem cells and other cells. JAKs enzymes are involved in stimulating immune responses that contribute to symptoms of RA. Therefore, inhibiting JAKs enzymes reduces symptoms of RA.

Tofacitinib (Xeljanz) is an oral drug and is the first JAKs inhibitor approved by the FDA.


Corticosteroids are synthetic versions of anti-inflammatory chemicals normally produced in the body. They are powerful, but long-term use can result in severe side effects, including weaker bones and a depressed immune system.

Disease-Modifying Antirheumatic Drugs (DMARDs)

DMARDs don't just relieve pain and/or inflammation of RA, they actually can alter the course of the chronic disease, and help stop some of the damage from getting worse. DMARDs include the biological drugs listed above as well as non-biological drugs listed below.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 4/27/2016


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