Disease-modifying drugs (DMARDs) act on the immune system to slow the progression of joint damage from rheumatoid arthritis. This is why they are called “disease-modifying.” DMARDs are an important part of an overall treatment plan and include medications such as Hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil), sulfasalazine (Azulfidine), Leflunomide (Arava), and Methotrexate.
While taking one or more DMARDs, you may have longer symptom-free periods, or flare ups that are less painful or stressful. Your joints may take less time to loosen up in the morning. At a check-up, your rheumatologist may end up telling you that your most recent X-rays are free of any new damage. Taking a DMARD regularly makes you less likely to have long-term damage to your joints, too.
To minimize side effects, DMARDs are sometimes started one at a time and increased gradually. The goal is to minimize both rheumatoid arthritis disease activity and medication side effects. It often takes more than one DMARD to get control of active rheumatoid arthritis.