Using DMARDs to Treat Psoriatic Arthritis

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If you have psoriatic arthritis, you have the ability to help control the outcome of your disease. Although psoriatic arthritis can continue to damage the joints if left untreated, there are many treatment options available that can help you slow or even prevent this process. Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) may help you ensure healthier joints and a better long-term quality of life.

DMARDs are a class of prescription drugs designed to slow progression of psoriatic arthritis as well as reduce joint pain and inflammation. They are typically prescribed for people who can’t find relief with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or who show signs of progressive joint damage. However, some experts believe DMARDs may be beneficial if taken in the first few years after diagnosis to help prevent permanent joint damage. They are sometimes taken at the same time as NSAIDs to achieve both day-to-day symptom relief and long-term disease control.

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There are many different kinds of DMARDs. The two most common types are “traditional” and biologic. Although they work in different ways, all suppress abnormal immune system activity that causes inflammation. It’s important to work closely with your doctor to find a DMARD and dosage that’s right for your condition and health needs.

"Traditional" DMARDs

There are many “traditional” DMARDs, also called systemic drugs, prescribed for psoriatic arthritis treatment. Some have been used for decades with positive results. The most common systemic drugs for psoriatic arthritis include:

  • Cyclosporine (Neoral and Sandimmune)
  • Leflunomide (Arava)
  • Methotrexate (Rheumatrex and Trexall)
  • Sulfasalazine (Azulfidine)
  • Azathioprine (Imuran)


These drugs are usually taken orally or by injection. Although some DMARDs work quickly, many take months to become effective.

Risks and benefits: Traditional DMARDs reduce joint pain and stiffness for many people with psoriatic arthritis. However, many systemic drugs pose potential risk for liver damage with long-term use. As a result, patients must be monitored closely.

Biologic Response Modifier (Biologic) Drugs

Biologic drugs are a newer form of DMARDs that have dramatically improved treatment for psoriatic arthritis. The drugs, which are made from human or animal protein molecules, help slow joint damage by targeting specific cells in the immune system that cause inflammation.

Common biologic drugs prescribed for psoriatic arthritis include:

  • Adalimumab (Humira)
  • Etanercept (Enbrel)
  • Golimumab (Simponi)
  • Infliximab (Remicade)
  • Certolizumab (Entyvia, Cimzia)
  • Secukinumab (Cosentyx)

Key Takeaways:

  • DMARDs are a class of prescription drugs designed to slow progression of psoriatic arthritis as well as reduce joint pain and inflammation.

  • DMARDs are often given to people with psoriatic arthritis who don’t find relief with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.

  • The two most common types of DMARDs are traditional and biologic.
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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Jul 28

  1. Biologics. The Psoriasis and Psoriatic Alliance. http://www.papaa.org/psoriatic-arthritis-treatments/biologics
  2. Moderate to Severe Psoriasis and Psoriatic Arthritis: Biologic Drugs. National Psoriasis Foundation. https://www.psoriasis.org/about-psoriasis/treatments/biologics
  3. Traditional Systemic Medications. National Psoriasis Foundation. https://www.psoriasis.org/about-psoriasis/treatments/systemics
  4. Disease-modifying Anti-rheumatic Drugs (DMARDs). The Psoriasis and Psoriatic Alliance. http://www.papaa.org/psoriatic-arthritis-treatments/disease-modifying-anti-rheumatic-drugs-dmards
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