Disease-Modifying Antirheumatic Drugs (DMARDs)

What are disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs)?

If you have an autoimmune joint disease like rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, juvenile arthritis or lupus, your doctor may recommend a medicine to help slow down the progressive joint damage that these diseases cause. These medicines are called disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs).

How do DMARDs work?

When you have an autoimmune disease, your body’s immune system starts attacking healthy tissue (in this case, in your joints) the same way it would normally attack germs. DMARDs work by telling your immune system to slow down the inflammatory process that it’s creating in the joints. This can lead to symptom relief and a decrease in new joint damage.

Common DMARDs include:

  • Methotrexate
  • Leflunomide
  • Sulfasalazine
  • Hydroxychloroquine

Your doctor may recommend that you take multiple DMARDs together. You may also be prescribed a biologic agent, which is another type of medicine that slows down joint damage and reduces inflammation. Taking a biologic and a DMARD at the same time is called combination therapy.

Do DMARDs have side effects?

Like any medicine, DMARDs can cause some side effects. These may include:

  • Upset stomach
  • Liver problems
  • Anemia
  • Low white blood cell count

Your doctor will do regular blood tests to make sure your liver and blood are healthy. Often, doctors will recommend starting a DMARD slowly and increasing the dosage gradually to help prevent side effects.

Though they can have side effects, DMARDs are proven to help rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune joint diseases. Even if you’re in remission from your disease, your doctor may still recommend that you take a DMARD to prevent any further joint damage. Talk to your doctor to find the best DMARD for you.


Rheumatic conditions can significantly impact your daily life. Our experts are here for you every step of the way. Our rheumatologists have years of experience, treating all musculoskeletal and autoimmune diseases with compassionate and personalized care.