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Antirheumatic drugs

Antirheumatic drugs are used to slow or stop the joint damage that often results from long-term inflammation.

Antirheumatic drugs
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Antirheumatic drugs slow or halt the progress of long-term inflammatory disorders of the joints and connective tissues. They are most commonly used to treat rheumatoid arthritis. In this disorder, the immune system attacks the body's own tissues, primarily the joints, causing them to become swollen, stiff, and painful. These drugs are often used together with a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug.

Common drugs

Immunosuppressants: Azathioprine, Ciclosporin, Cyclophosphamide, Methotrexate Gold-based drugs: Auranofin, Sodium aurothiomalate
Other antirheumatic drugs: Hydroxychloroquine, Penicillamine, Sulfasalazine

What are the types of antirheumatic drugs?

Antirheumatic drugs include immunosuppressants and gold-based drugs, as well as a number of others. The way many of these drugs work is unclear. Immunosuppressants suppress the body's inflammatory responses; the use of other types of drug leads to a decline in the inflammation around the joints. Most antirheumatic drugs need to be taken for at least 6 weeks before there is an improvement in symptoms.

Immunosuppressants drugs

Drugs in this group may be used to treat severe rheumatoid arthritis. They are usually taken orally but may be injected. The drugs work by suppressing the body's immune response. If you are taking these drugs, you will have regular blood tests to ensure that the level of white blood cells does not fall too low, which can lead to increased susceptibility to infection.

Gold-based drugs

These drugs are usually given by injection into a muscle. In some people, they cause side effects, such as a rash and diarrhoea. Rarely, they affect the kidneys; regular urine tests are performed during treatment to detect complications. The drugs also occasionally suppress blood cell production in the bone marrow. This may cause serious problems such as abnormal bleeding, so regular blood tests are needed.

Other antirheumatic drugs

Other commonly used drugs that are thought to have an immunosuppressant effect are sulfasalazine, hydroxychloroquine, and penicillamine. Recently developed drugs include agents that suppress a natural chemical in the blood known as tumour necrosis factor. This factor is present at excessive levels in people who have rheumatoid arthritis.

Sulfasalazine is a combination of an antibiotic and a form of aspirin and is taken orally. Side effects may include rashes, nausea and vomiting, and blood disorders such as anaemia.

Hydroxychloroquine is an antimalarial drug that may also be used to treat systemic lupus erythematosus and is taken orally. Possible side effects include headaches and stomach upsets. Very rarely, eye damage may occur after prolonged treatment; eye examinations are needed periodically.

Penicillamine may be used to treat rheumatoid arthritis when inflammation affects other areas of the body in addition to the joints. It has similar side effects to gold-based drugs.


If you are taking an antirheumatic drug, you should report any sign of infection, such as a sore throat, or any unusual bleeding to your doctor immediately.

Posted 09.09.2010


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