Disease-modifying Antirheumatic Drugs (DMARDs) and Arthritis

Arthritis is a common condition which affects a person’s joints, causing pain and inflammation, particularly during the night. There are many different types of arthritis with the most common including Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid arthritis.

  • Osteoarthritis (OA) is essentially wear and tear of a joint or joints, such as wrist, hip, knee. The main symptom is pain and swelling of the affected area. OA tends to occur and worsen with age, but can also occur following trauma or infection.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a long term disease where joints are inflamed causing pain, swelling and stiffness. The affected area may look swollen, red and warm to touch however symptoms vary between people. The most commonly affected joints are wrists, hands and feet. RA often strikes between the ages of 30-50 and three times more women are affected than men.

For more information about arthritis, related conditions and advice on what to expect if you suspect you are suffering from arthritis see our Arthritis Patient Journey page on the talkhealth website.

Disease Modifying Antirheumatic Drugs (DMARDs) are most commonly used to treat Rheumatoid arthritis.

The use of DMARDs to slow the progression of arthritis

Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) are drugs that are used to slow the progression of arthritic conditions – especially rheumatoid arthritis. It is worth remembering that DMARDs will help prevent a condition from worsening but cannot cure arthritis. DMARDs may not relieve the pain associated with arthritis so you may find you need any other symptoms to be managed separately.

DMARDs are also used in the treatment of ankylosing spondylitis, psoriatic arthritis, juvenile idiopathic arthritis, and lupus.

Different DMARDs will be prescribed by a qualified healthcare professional, such as a doctor or specialist, as appropriate for your condition. Different DMARDs work in different ways, however the aim of all DMARDs is to halt or slow the inflammatory process in arthritis that can put joints and internal organs at risk. This inflammation is caused (in the case of rheumatoid arthritis) by over-activity in the immune systems which can then cause damage to healthy cells. DMARDs work to control or limit this over-activity. This makes them different from a number of other common treatments for arthritis, which only treat the symptoms of the condition.

DMARDs are usually slow-acting – they can take 8 to 12 weeks to work – so if you have been prescribed DMARDs, you may need to be patient before noticing a reduction in your symptoms. However once you have found the right DMARD which works for your condition you will very likely experience an increase in the time between ‘flare ups’ of symptoms. This will allow you to achieve a better quality of life.

Since DMARDs affect the immune system, people taking DMARDs are more likely to contract infections and should take extra precautions to minimise contact with people carrying infections such as chickenpox, and should also take extra care in food preparation. If you are taking DMARDs, you should be extra vigilant for signs of infection such as temperature changes, a sore throat, or pain while urinating, and should visit your doctor whenever you notice changes. It is also worth discussing with your doctor the suitability of immunisations for some of these common conditions.

Commonly prescribed conventional DMARDs include Methotrexate, Sulfasalazine, Hydroxychloroquine, Leflunomide, Azathioprine, Penicillamine, Gold Injections, and Ciclosporin.

Sources used in writing this article are available on request

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Next review: 16 March 2022