1. Health
You can opt-out at any time. Please refer to our privacy policy for contact information.

Discuss in my forum

Arthritis Treatment - What You Should Expect

Changes and Adjustments Are Made to Find Most Effective Treatment

By

Updated May 30, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

200514339-001.jpg
Tom Grill/The Image Bank/Getty Images

After you are diagnosed with arthritis, your doctor will likely prescribe one or more medications, along with other appropriate treatment. Anxious to tame your arthritis symptoms, and especially relieve your pain, it's encouraging for you to have a plan. Feeling encouraged and having a positive attitude is a big part of dealing with arthritis -- but so is having realistic expectations. Here are some things you should expect from arthritis treatment.

There Is No Cure for Arthritis

Currently, there is no cure for arthritis. Treatment is aimed at controlling symptoms and slowing progression of the disease. In other words, medication and other arthritis treatments may have analgesic (pain-relieving) effects, anti-inflammatory effects, and disease-modifying effects. The goal is to feel better, maintain a good quality of life, and slow joint destruction. People with certain types of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis may achieve remission with treatment. But, remission is not a cure. Arthritis is a chronic disease. It doesn't go away with treatment.

Some Treatments Take Time to Work

While some medications are fast-acting (e.g. pain medications), others take time to work. The slow-acting drugs (e.g. methotrexate or TNF blockers) can take weeks or months to be effective.

It can be disconcerting to expect quick relief from a particular medication, later to learn it is actually slow acting. It would be best to discuss what you should expect at the time your doctor prescribes a drug. You should ask your doctor how long it will be before you notice any benefit from the drug. Also, it would be a good idea to ask how long you will stay on the medication if you are experiencing no benefit. It is important to give medication a reasonable amount of time to work. You likely will be more willing to do that, if you know what to expect.

Medications Will Likely Be Changed

Life with arthritis would be easier if your doctor could prescribe the most effective drug for you from the start. Typically, arthritis patients go through trials of several different arthritis medications before finding the best combination to control their disease. Your doctor will recommend an initial treatment plan, but you should expect that drugs will be added to that and subtracted from the initial regimen.

Response to Treatment Different for Everyone

It is not uncommon for a person with arthritis to request a prescription for a specific medication from their doctor. The medication is usually one that is being heavily marketed and advertised -- or one that a family member or friend has used successfully. While anything reasonable is worth a try, arthritis patients must realize that response to medication is individual. What works for one, may not work for another person. It is also possible that a medication or treatment which has worked for you in the past can stop working, making it necessary to switch. Don't be discouraged -- keep searching for what does work.

Monitoring Effectiveness of Treatment

There are several ways to determine if a particular medication or treatment is working well. The most obvious factor is how you feel. Has the treatment relieved your pain and decreased other arthritis symptoms? Has it allowed you to sleep well and keep up with usual activities of daily living? Do you feel worse or better since starting the treatment?

Your doctor may ask you to rate your pain using a pain scale or track your symptoms in a diary format. Also, there are blood tests (sedimentation rate and CRP) that can monitor increasing or decreasing levels of inflammation.

Side Effects Are Possible

While the goal of treatment is to improve your condition, it is possible for unwanted side effects or adverse reactions to occur. The side effects can range from minor to severe. You should look up drug information and also read the prescription information leaflet that you receive when picking up any new medication, to familiarize yourself with possible side effects. It's important that you realize side effects are possible with any medication or treatment, at any time. If unusual side effects develop, call your doctor. If there is a severe adverse reaction, seek emergency medical attention.

Research and Development of New Drugs

Researchers are continually developing new and better treatments for arthritis. Take an interest in learning more about what is in the pipeline. You can discuss potential new treatments with your doctor, as you decide together whether a new treatment will be an appropriate option for you or if it would be better to stay the course with your current treatment.

How arthritis is treated changed dramatically in 1998. That year, the first biologic drug was approved for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. There have been other drug approvals since that time for gout (Krystexxa), psoriatic arthritis, osteoarthritis (Cymbalta), and other types of arthritis, too.

If you have achieved stability (i.e., stable pain level, less active synovitis) with your treatment, you are achieving your goals. Most people with arthritis should expect some degree of change to occur during their treatment course, as they make every effort to gain control over arthritis. It's a process to find out what works best for you -- and then to hope it keeps working. Consider all of your treatment options for arthritis.

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.

We comply with the HONcode standard
for trustworthy health
information: verify here.