DMARDs are medicines that partly turn off the body's infection-fighting system, called the "immune system." Doctors prescribe DMARDs for some diseases that happen when the immune system mistakenly attacks the body's own healthy tissues, such as your joints or your kidneys. These are called "autoimmune" diseases. Examples include rheumatoid arthritis and psoriatic arthritis.
DMARDs work by blocking the effects of your immune system when it attacks your joints or other parts of your body. DMARDs are a key part of treatment because they can slow the spread of the disease and reduce the damage it causes to parts of your body over time. Doctors usually start DMARDs soon after they are sure you have an autoimmune disease that can cause damage to the joints.
DMARDs take weeks or months to work. Doctors can
prescribe other medicines along with DMARDs while waiting for the DMARDs to take effect.
Other medicines can be a nonsteroidal pain reliever (NSAID), such asnaproxen, or a steroid,
such asprednisone. These medicines reduce stiffness and soreness.
Before starting a DMARD, your doctor might test you for tuberculosis (TB) and hepatitis, and check to see if your vaccines are current depending on what kind of DMARD you are going to receive.
There are 2 main types of DMARDs: traditional and biologic.
• Traditional DMARDs – Doctors usually prescribe traditional DMARDs first. These include
medicines usually taken as pills, such asmethotrexate,leflunomide,
One common DMARD,methotrexate, is taken just 1 time per week, usually as a pill. Some people have been badly harmed by taking methotrexate too often. If your doctor prescribes methotrexate for you, always double check the instructions with your doctor and pharmacist before you take it. Use a pill box and other reminders to make sure you take it correctly. Do not drink alcohol if you take methotrexate.
• Biologic DMARDs – These medicines are taken by an injection (shot) under the skin or through a thin tube that goes into a vein, called an "IV." The IV medicines are given in a doctor's office or clinic over a period of a half-hour or longer.
Usually, doctors prescribe biologic DMARDs only if you do not get better while taking standard DMARDs, or if you have bad side effects while taking other DMARDs. People usually take biologic medicines along with another DMARD, such asmethotrexate.
Some people should not take biologic DMARDs. For example, if you have a serious infection, certain blood cancers, or heart problems, your doctor will decide whether or not a biologic DMARD is a good choice for you.
• Other DMARDs – These are medicines that work like biologic DMARDs and have similar risks and side effects, but are taken as pills.
Maybe. If your symptoms do not improve enough after a few months of treatment at a full dose, your doctor might switch your medicine. You might get a different DMARD or a combination of 2 or 3 different DMARDs.
Side effects depend on the specific DMARD you are taking. They are usually mild and might include loss of appetite, nausea, headache, or diarrhea. DMARDs can also cause serious side effects in a small number of people. You will need to see your doctor on a regular basis to check for possible problems caused by DMARDs. This usually includes regular blood tests. Talk to your doctor or nurse about any side effects that you find bothersome or worrisome.
If you are taking a DMARD and it is working well,
your doctor might keep you on it for a while. This will help keep symptoms from flaring up and
protect your body from being damaged by the disease.
To know how the medicine is working, your doctor can ask questions about how you feel, examine you, and order imaging tests. Imaging tests create pictures of the inside of your body. Doctors can use them to see how your joints are doing, and then change your DMARD medicine or dose if needed. This is another reason you should have regular appointments with your doctor when you are taking a DMARD.
Possibly. DMARDs can decrease how often symptoms "flare up" or get worse, and how severe the symptoms are. But in some cases, they cannot stop symptoms completely. If your disease flares up, your doctor might need to change your DMARD or adjust the dose. He or she might also need to give you additional medicines.
Many DMARDs are not safe to take when trying to get pregnant, during pregnancy or if you are nursing a baby. Talk with your doctor if you or your partner could become pregnant.