Different types of medications —do you know what is what?

Different types of medications —do you know what is what?

Methotrexate, cortisone, synthetic and biological medications… It’s not always easy to keep track of the concepts. But what do the different medicines actually do? Elsa clarifies the terms.

Being involved in your treatment is often a key to feeling better. If you know the different types of medicines that can be considered in the treatment of rheumatic disease, and how they can help you feel better, it will also be easier to take an active part in the treatment.

The various medications that you may come into contact with when having a rheumatic disease can be divided into different groups according to how they work and what good they do. Different medications are often combined to achieve the desired effect. Therefore, you have probably come across several of them.

There are three main groups of medicines:

  • disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs)

  • cortisone

  • painkillers

DMARDs slow down the disease

The DMARDs are needed to slow down the course of the disease itself. They ensure that the overactive immune system attacking healthy parts of your body calms down, and can sometimes make you completely symptom-free, at least periodically.

DMARDs come in different forms; some in tablet form, others as a syringe, injection pen or drop.

The disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs are divided into subgroups according to how they are prepared and work:

  • synthetic

  • synthetic and targeted

  • biological

Sometimes it can feel tempting to stop your disease modifying anti-rheumatic treatment simply because you feel good. None of us really want to be dependent on medicine, and perhaps we have an image of ourselves as someone who "does not take medicine unnecessarily". An important thing to know, however, is that it is precisely the DMARD that makes the rheumatic disease go unnoticed.


Cortisone reduces the inflammation

Unlike the DMARDs, cortisone does not slow down the disease itself, but is often given at the beginning of the disease to quickly control the inflammation. The cortisone is usually gradually reduced after a while and eventually not given at all when other medications have started to do their job. This should always be done in consultation with your doctor. 

Cortisone can be taken in several different ways, e.g. as tablets, syringes or drop. It is common to receive an injection directly into a specific joint to reduce local inflammation. (1)

Painkillers do not affect the course of the disease

As the name suggests, painkillers relieve the pain itself. However, it is important to know that they do not affect the course of the disease.

There are pain relievers that only make you feel less pain, and those that also reduce inflammation. The latter are called NSAIDs, Non-steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs.

Painkillers are taken if need be—when you yourself feel there is a reason. Remember never to combine several NSAIDs, or to take them together with other painkillers, without consulting your doctor. The total dose may be too high and expose you to unnecessary risks. (2)

Worry and doubt

Having thoughts and questions about your medications is nothing strange—it can even be good because your thoughts can help you evaluate the situation. It can be difficult to know if the medicine is working as intended—should you be happy this way, or would you feel better with another medicine?

Side effects are another factor that can create uncertainty. Do you really have to put up with feeling bad or being tired all the time? Sometimes it can help just to change to another form of the preparation, e.g. from tablet to injection.

Make sure to discuss your questions with your doctor. You have the right to get answers to them.

Also remember that there are a lot of medications out there, so it may be worth the effort to try to find what works for you. Your doctor is an expert on medicine, and you are the expert on your experience. Together you can find what actually works in your particular case.



  1. American College of Rheumatology: Guidelines

  2.  EMA: Biosimilars in the EU