A variety of medications are used to treat rheumatic diseases. The type of medication depends on the rheumatic disease and on the individual patient.
At this time, the medications used to treat most rheumatic diseases do not provide a cure, but rather limit the symptoms of the disease. The one exception is treatments for infectious arthritis. If caught early enough, arthritis associated with an infection (such as Lyme disease) can usually be cured with antibiotics.
Medications commonly used to treat rheumatic diseases provide relief from pain and inflammation. In some cases, the medication may slow the course of the disease and prevent further damage to joints or other parts of the body. This fact sheet describes the medications most commonly used to treat pain and inflammation.
The doctor may delay using medications until a definite diagnosis is made, because medications can hide important symptoms (such as fever and swelling) and thereby interfere with diagnosis. Patients taking any medication, either prescription or over-the-counter, should always follow the doctor’s instructions. The doctor should be notified immediately if the medicine is making the symptoms worse or causing other problems, such as an upset stomach, nausea, or headache. The doctor may be able to change the dosage or medicine to reduce these side effects.
Joint Pain Relief: Analgesics
Analgesics (pain relievers) such as aspirin; other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID’s) such as ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil, Nuprin); and acetaminophen (Tylenol) are used to reduce the pain caused by many rheumatic conditions. Aspirin and NSAID’s have the added benefit of decreasing the inflammation associated with arthritis. Certain analgesics, such as aspirin and NSAID’s, can have side effects, such as stomach irritation, that can be reduced by changing the dosage or the medication. The dosage will vary depending on the particular illness and the overall health of the patient. The doctor and patient must work together to determine which analgesic to use and the appropriate amount. If analgesics do not ease the pain, the doctor may use other medications, depending on the diagnosis.
Brand names included in this fact sheet are provided as examples only, and their inclusion does not mean that these products are endorsed by the National Institutes of Health or any other Government agency. Also, if a particular brand name is not mentioned, this does not mean that the product is unsatisfactory.
Joint Pain Relief: Corticosteroids
Corticosteroids, such as prednisone, cortisone, solumedrol, and hydrocortisone, are used to treat many rheumatic conditions because they decrease inflammation and suppress the immune system. The dosage of these medications will vary depending on the diagnosis and the patient; again, the patient and doctor must work together to determine what dose is best for the patient.
Corticosteroids can be given by mouth, in creams applied to the skin, or by injection. Short-term side effects of corticosteroids include swelling, increased appetite, weight gain, and emotional ups and downs. These side effects generally stop when the drug is stopped. It can be dangerous to stop taking corticosteroids suddenly, so it is very important that the doctor and patient work together when changing the corticosteroid dose. Side effects that may occur after long-term use of corticosteroids include stretch marks, excessive hair growth, osteoporosis, high blood pressure, damage to the arteries, high blood sugar, infections, and cataracts.
Although some rheumatic diseases respond to analgesics and corticosteroids, others may not. Rheumatoid arthritis, gout, lupus, scleroderma, and fibromyalgia are some of the rheumatic diseases that routinely require other medications; these are prescribed to slow the course of the disease or to treat disease-specific symptoms.
Reference: National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases