There are a number of different options out there when it comes to arthritis medication, and your doctor or specialist may have you try a number of them before finding the one that relieves your symptoms the best. As you likely know, treatments for arthritis change on a regular basis.
One of the many medications that may come up in conversation is Methotrexate. This medication is becoming incredibly popular among arthritis specialists, and it’s important that we know what it is and how it works before we try it for ourselves.
What is Methotrexate?
Methotrexate is an interesting drug, and it was first used to help reduce cell growth in the body. If you are looking for the “brand name” of this drug, it is actually better known as Trexall or Rheumatrex. The medication is not a daily medication; many people will only end up taking it at most 2 times a week.
It can be administered orally, or it can be administered as a shot that you go in and get, your home care nurse comes and gives to you, or that you or a loved one is taught how to use at home.
The first tests on the drug were actually used in order to help prevent the spread of cancer cells throughout the body, specifically in bone marrow, on the skin, in or on the breast, or related to the neck, head, or lung.
After awhile, it was also used in a number of other clinical trials, and has been found to be especially effective when it comes to taking care of rheumatoid arthritis and very severe psoriasis.
Usually this drug is used as a “last resort” because it can cause a number of different side effects, which we will talk about below.
How Does it Work With Arthritis?
So why does methotrexate get used for arthritis? What does this drug provide that you aren’t able to find with the other drugs that are on the market for this often frustrating disorder that we call arthritis?
As we mentioned above, it starts by interfering with your body’s genetic material development, and essentially “halts” the DNA that tells your body to produce certain things.
It’s interesting, because many people don’t realize that it actually isn’t fully understood how it helps with arthritis.
There are a lot of theories out there that are related to it, especially because some types of arthritis (specifically, rheumatoid arthritis), often occur because there’s too much activity in the body in and around the joints, and if the cells bunch up too much, it causes swelling and the other issues associated with arthritis.
So, because of that, it’s thought that perhaps the medication makes it so that your body isn’t producing those things as quickly, thus making it easier for you to move and reducing the inflammation.
Many times, methotrexate is used in combination with other immunosuppressive drugs (sometimes referred to as disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs, or DMARDs) during the early stages of arthritis.
It helps to prevent the disease from progressing further at that point. The drug helps to reduce the pain going on as well.
Because the side effects are relatively uncommon (but they do happen, which is why we discuss them below), many people feel comfortable staying on the medication for extended periods of time.
Methotrexate is one of the most successful DMARD’s out there, with a majority of patients seeing little to no side effects and a high success rate.
Warnings and Side Effects
As with any medication, you have to be careful when you use it. Always use it under the supervision of a doctor or specialist, and if you have any concerns about the medication, make sure you have a conversation with the specialist or your pharmacist.
By understanding your medication, you can ensure that you will stay healthy and well while still getting the treatment that you need to function properly.
Basic side effects may include a dry mouth, dry skin, upset stomach, and some coughing. There are, of course, more severe side effects that you may deal with when taking methotrexate; here are some that may need to be watched out for.
- Gastrointestinal issues, including vomiting and diarrhea. You may feel pain in your abdomen, specifically the upper part of your stomach. You may also find blood in your stools.
- Urinary tract issues, including infection, blood in your urine, or being unable to urinate.
- Skin problems, including sensitivity to touch, bruising, and paleness.
- Flu-like symptoms, including aches, pains, fever, and chills.
- Allergic reactions, including hives, swelling in and around the face and throat, or blisters.
- Shortness of breath, coughing without phlegm, white patches on your mouth and/or lips, and sore throat.
- Lightheadedness, dizziness, loss of balance, and/or blurry vision.
- Weight gain and swelling.
- Fatigue and exhaustion.
Obviously, if you start to see any of these, you will want to make sure that you stop taking the medication immediately and talk to your doctor as soon as possible.
With the more severe side effects, you will want to go to a hospital in order to get treatment and care. Your specialist will either take you off of the medication or work with you to see why these symptoms are occurring.
So, if you’re still playing the medication game and trying to determine which set of medications is best for your arthritis pain, then you may want to talk to your doctor to see if methotrexate is an option for you to try.
With its high success rate, many doctors have started to include it in the mix of medications that they use with their arthritis patients.
Your specialist, of course, will be the one to determine whether or not this medication will be effective as a part of your treatment plan, but bringing it up is always a good thing.
Having an active role in your treatment plan will make it so that your plan is better tailored for you and your needs.