Common treatment options include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen and Aleve that reduce pain and inflammation, allowing patients to enjoy their lives. While some NSAIDs are available over the counter, doctors can prescribe stronger medications to patients.
Corticosteroid medications can also reduce inflammation, pain, and joint damage caused by rheumatoid arthritis. Common medicines include prednisone. Because of the risk of steroids, they are best used to temporarily treat acute symptoms with the intent of tapering off over time.
A category of medications known as disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) has proven effective at slowing the condition's progression and even presenting permanent damage. Methotrexate, leflunomide, hydroxychloroquine, and sulfasalazine are common DMARDs that are sold under a variety of brand names.
Finally, a new class of drugs known as biologic response modifiers works by targeting the part of the immune system that causes inflammation and leads to damaged joints and tissue, especially when paired with a DMARD such as methotrexate. However, these medications come with the risk of infections, and high doses of one biologic agent, tofacitinib, can contribute to blood clots.
Rheumatoid arthritis patients can consider natural aids if they want relief from their symptoms without the side effects of prescribed treatments. Several options exist, including:
- Fish oil can reduce the pain and stiffness caused by this condition.
- Oils derived from evening primrose, borage, and black currant can help with pain associated with rheumatoid arthritis due to a fatty acid they contain.
- Movement therapies such as Tai chi gently stretch the body while reducing stress and improving mood. Studies show that Tai chi can improve quality of life for these patients.
Because natural treatments can have side effects or counteract with prescribed medications, patients should always check with their doctors before starting any supplements.
Patients may also want to consider physical therapy that helps them keep joints flexible. Physical therapists may also advise patients ways to complete daily tasks and tools that minimize pain caused by RA. Regular exercise and the application of heat and cold can also provide pain relief, and learning to control stress can also help someone with rheumatoid arthritis feel better.
In some instances, surgery may be necessary to move inflamed linings from joints, repair tendons that have ruptured because of joint damage, stabilize a joint that cannot be replaced, or replace a joint that has experienced significant injury with a prosthesis.
Through a combination of medical treatments, alternative medications, lifestyle changes, and therapies, many people with rheumatoid arthritis can lead relatively normal lives.