Finding treatment options that are effective at relieving pain and reducing inflammation are important to preserve joint health. Thinking of inflammation like a “fire” burning in the joints means any fire left unattended may cause damage. Once a joint is damaged it cannot be fixed other than through surgery. Just as you would try to put out a fire in your home with a fire extinguisher before it spreads, you want to put out the inflammation of rheumatoid arthritis as quickly and as safely as possible.
It is important to treat rheumatoid arthritis as early as possible as research has confirmed that this improves the long-term outcomes and quality of life of people living with rheumatoid arthritis.
There are a variety of medications that can be used to help treat symptoms of pain and inflammation caused by rheumatoid arthritis, though not all medications are the same, or work in the same way. There are three main categories of medications that are often used to help treat rheumatoid arthritis or its symptoms.
Medical treatment plans
Arthritis medications are designed to control the disease, to slow its progression and to help manage symptoms. These medications can be very complex, so it's important to talk with your doctor or pharmacist about any questions you may have, or for more detailed explanations specific to your health and wellness.
You may need to be screened for tuberculosis or other infections before starting medications. Your treatment may require injections under the skin or infusions into a vein.
There is an ongoing need for you to visit your rheumatologist to consider the use of different biologic or targeted treatment until your rheumatoid arthritis is well controlled.
Finding a medication or combination of medications that works for you may take some time and may require trying a few different medications before something works. This process may feel frustrating, discouraging, or overwhelming. It is okay to feel this way, but if you notice your thoughts or feelings are causing you to feel sad more often, or you have difficulty concentrating on other things that are important to you, let your doctor or healthcare team know. It's important to take care of all aspects of your health, including your mental health too.
Surgery is not common for inflammatory arthritis but may be necessary after many years of severe disease. Surgery may be needed to relieve pain, straighten out a bent or deformed joint, restore mobility or replace a damaged joint. Sometimes the tendons and ligaments around joints, such as the hips, may need to be lengthened. A surgeon may also be asked to make recommendations on splinting and rehabilitation.
Areas of Research for Rheumatoid Arthritis
This information was last updated September 2023, with expert advice from:
Bindee Kuriya, MD, SM, FRCPC
Assistant Professor, Department of Medicine
Division of Rheumatology University of Toronto