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8 Signs It’s Time to Switch RA Meds

Medically reviewed by Brenda B. Spriggs, MD, MPH, FACP on February 1, 2018Written by Heather Cruickshank on February 1, 2018
switch ra medications

Are symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) interfering with your daily life? Have you been experiencing unpleasant side effects from your medications? Your current treatment plan might not be the right fit.

Learn how to recognize when your treatment plan might need to change. Here are some telltale signs.

1. Your symptoms aren’t controlled

If your condition has never been fully controlled, it’s time to talk to your doctor. Even if you’re feeling somewhat better than you did before treatment, it’s important to strive for better symptom control. The ultimate goal of treatment is remission or low disease activity. These are states in which your symptoms disappear or nearly disappear.

To better control your symptoms, your doctor might suggest changing from one medication to another. Alternatively, they might advise you to adjust your current dosage of prescribed drugs or add another drug to your treatment plan. In some cases, combining multiple disease modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) can help.

2. Your symptoms have returned

If your symptoms have returned after a period of relief, your current treatment plan might not be working as intended. It’s possible that your body has developed a tolerance to a prescribed drug. Or you may be experiencing a flare that isn’t controlled by your current medications.

Your doctor might suggest changing your dosage, switching medications, or adding another medication to your regimen.

3. You’ve developed new symptoms

New symptoms, such as pain in previously unaffected joints, are often a sign that your disease has progressed. This means that the underlying inflammation isn’t under control. To ease your discomfort and prevent further damage, changes to your medications could be needed.

Your doctor may decide to adjust your prescribed dosage or recommend new medications as a replacement or add-on to drugs that you’re currently taking.

4. You’re having difficulty with side effects

If you suspect your RA medications are causing side effects, speak to your doctor. For example, common adverse side effects include headaches, nausea, and fatigue. In rare cases, more severe side effects can occur, such as potentially life-threatening allergic reactions. Biologic drugs can also leave you vulnerable to serious infections.

To limit side effects, your doctor might recommend changes to your drug regimen. For example, they could suggest adjusting your dosage or switching your medications. In some cases, they might advise you to take over-the-counter or prescription drugs to manage side effects.

5. You’re being treated for other conditions

If you’ve started taking a new medication or supplement to manage another health condition, it’s important to talk to your doctor about potential drug interactions. Sometimes one drug or supplement can interfere with another. Some drugs and supplements can also interact in ways that produce unpleasant or dangerous side effects.

Always talk to your doctor before taking a new medication, supplement, or herbal product. If your doctor is concerned about potential drug interactions, they might recommend alternative medications or treatment strategies.

6. You’ve become pregnant

If you’re taking drugs to treat RA, and you think you may have become pregnant, let your doctor know right away. Some drugs can cross your placenta and affect your fetus. Some drugs can also be transmitted to nursing infants through breast milk.

Your doctor might recommend temporary changes to your treatment plan while you’re pregnant or nursing.

7. You can’t afford your current meds

If you can’t afford your current medications, talk to your doctor about your options. Ask them if lower-cost alternatives are available. For example, generic alternatives to brand-name products are often cheaper.

In some cases, you might qualify for patient assistance programs. For example, you might be eligible for government-funded benefits, such as Medicaid or Medicare. The Arthritis Foundation also maintains lists of financial aid organizations and pharmaceutical company programs that offer financial support.

8. Your symptoms are gone

If your symptoms have disappeared, your rheumatoid arthritis (RA) might be in remission. As a result, your doctor might suggest changes to your medications. For example, you may be able to reduce your dosage or stop taking certain drugs.

In some cases, changing your treatment plan might cause your symptoms to return. This is known as relapse.

The takeaway

Many different medications are available to treat RA. Drugs that work well for one person might not work for another. It’s important to develop a treatment plan that fits your needs. If you have concerns about your current treatment plan, don’t make changes without consulting with your doctor first.

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