There are a lot of treatments for arthritis, including short and longer-term approaches. Most of the medicines used for arthritis have long names and the different types of medicines can be very confusing.
In general, your treatment will be divided up into short-term or emergency treatments that are meant to work quickly and make you feel better soon, and longer-term treatments that are meant to prevent joint damage and keep you healthy.
Short-term treatments include painkilling tablets, for example paracetamol or codeine and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), for example naproxen and ibuprofen, and corticosteroids (steroids) given as tablets or injections into the joints or muscles. These medicines are used when your arthritis is active and affecting your life and usually shouldn’t be needed regularly, if at all, when you are feeling well.
Long-term treatments include medicines such as disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) such as methotrexate and sulfasalazine and biologic medicines such as adalimumab or etanercept. These medicines are not painkillers so can’t be used just on bad days or when you are struggling but need to be taken regularly to prevent joint damage. Some of these medicines will be prescribed by your GP and some by the hospital, so make sure that you know which is which.
You will need to have regular blood tests done if you are having long-term treatments for arthritis to make sure that they are safe. If you are planning a pregnancy you should speak to your rheumatology team in advance if you are taking these medicines as you may need to switch to something safer.
Questions to ask about your treatment
It is a good idea to prepare some questions ahead of your appointment, to make sure you have all the information you need for your new treatment.
- Are there any side effects?
- Should I take these tablets just when I need them or regularly?
- What should I do if I have a side effect?
- How do I get more supplies of medicine?
- What should I do if I forget to take my tablets?
- How often do I need to have blood tests done?
- Can I drink alcohol?
- Will these tablets affect my ability to become a parent?
- Do I have to tell my employer that I am taking these medicines?
Long-term hospital appointments
If you have inflammatory arthritis, you will need to be seen in the hospital regularly, but as things come under control your appointments will be spaced out, often to yearly or even less in some cases. Even if that is the case and you are feeling better, try not to miss one without letting someone know, as there is a risk you may be discharged. This may mean you have to stop your medicines and not be able to get another appointment easily without having to go back to your GP and start the whole process again. So it is important to stay in touch with the team.
If you are feeling well and don’t need to have your appointment, let someone know and your appointment can be moved to a later date.
Similarly, try not to miss your blood tests as GPs and consultants cannot carry on signing prescriptions unless it is safe, and for this to happen you will have to have your blood tests done regularly.
Finally, something easy to forget but important for continuity of your care: if you change your mobile number or move, remember to let your hospital know so that they can send your appointment letters to the right place.