Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is treated with a combination of medicines. They include glucocorticoids, disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs), and biologics. These medicines can help ease your pain and swelling. They may also prevent RA from getting worse.

Glucocorticoids can help with the pain, swelling, and stiffness of RA. A common one is prednisone. It is usually given to people in a low dose of 5 mg to 10 mg. Most people take it every day for about 3 months. Then the dose is lowered. Eventually, it is stopped. This type of medicine is meant for short-term use.

DMARDs and biologics can help prevent RA from getting worse. They may even stop RA from spreading to other joints and organs such as your eyes and heart. It takes a few weeks to months for these medicines to fully work. Prednisone is given in the meantime to help with symptoms. DMARDs and biologics can be used for many years in order to prevent joint damage. 

Your rheumatologist will check often to see how well your medicine is working. To do this, your doctor measures how serious your RA is. This review is called the RA disease activity score. This score looks at:

  • the number of tender and swollen joints
  • how you are feeling
  • inflammation levels from blood tests (erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) and C-reactive protein (CRP) levels)

The goal of RA medicines is to get this score as low as possible. When this happens, your RA is in remission or low disease activity. You won’t be feeling the pain, swelling, and stiffness that you did before. This also prevents permanent damage in your joints and in other organs.

Talk to your doctor about what combination of medicines will work best for you. Discuss the amounts of medicine and how long to take it. These choices depend on how you feel and your RA disease activity score.

RA medicines help with more than just your pain!