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Are there any cures for arthritis?

In the case of inflammatory arthritis, the sooner drug therapies are begun the more effective they’re likely to be. This can reduce the risk of long-term damage to joints and bones.

Drug therapy can be divided into two main groups:

drugs that treat the symptoms of arthritis (for example pain and stiffness)
treatments that suppress inflammatory disease and may improve the outcome.

Drugs may be available under different names. Each drug will have an approved (scientific) name – these are the names we use in these pages. But different manufacturers may give their own brand or trade name to a drug – for example, Voltarol is a brand name for diclofenac.

Unfortunately there’s no effective treatment that doesn’t occasionally cause side-effects. Minor side-effects aren’t uncommon but serious side-effects are rare. For more information on the possible side effects follow the links below for the different types of drugs.

. Drugs that treat the symptoms of arthritis (for example pain and stiffness):

Painkillers (analgesics) such as paracetamol reduce pain. These can be used for all types of arthritis. It’s best to take them before an activity that's likely to aggravate the pain rather than wait until your pain is very bad. They're also more effective if you take them regularly during a flare-up of pain. While some painkillers are available over the counter, if you're using these frequently or they aren't working, your doctor will be able to advise you about alternatives. 
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) reduce stiffness and swelling, as well as relieving pain. They reduce inflammation, but can also be helpful in types of arthritis where inflammation isn't the main problem (for example osteoarthritis). They can be used for short spells when your symptoms flare up, and in combination with analgesics if you need extra pain relief. You should take the lowest dose of anti-inflammatory drugs that controls your symptoms, and for the shortest time possible. NSAIDs can cause digestive problems (stomach upsets, indigestion or damage to the lining of the stomach) so in most cases NSAIDs will be prescribed along with a drug called a proton pump inhibitor (PPI), which will help to protect the stomach. NSAIDs also carry an increased risk of heart attack or stroke. Different forms of NSAIDs carry a varying degree of risk. Although the increased risk is small, your doctor will be cautious about prescribing NSAIDs if there are other factors that may increase your overall risk - for example, smoking, circulation problems, high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes. Some NSAIDs are available as creams or gels that you can rub on the affected joint.

Treatments that suppress inflammatory disease and may improve the outcome:

Disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) suppress inflammation and treat the underlying disease. They are used to treat inflammatory types of arthritis and occasionally types of connective tissue disease. It may be several weeks before they have any effect so anti-inflammatory drugs are often used alongside them. It's usual to have regular blood tests while you’re on DMARDs, and your blood pressure, urine and eyes should also be checked regularly. These drugs can be stopped for short periods without harm, for example, if you’re on a course of antibiotics for an infection.
Biological therapies are a newer class of drug. They’re used in the treatment of inflammatory arthritis when other types of disease-modifying drugs haven't been effective. They’re unique in the way they work, as they were made specifically to block messages between the white blood cells that cause inflammation. 

Drugs are often beneficial, but they need to be used carefully, according to your doctor’s instructions. If you’re worried, or think that they may be causing side-effects, consult your doctor