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Sulfasalazine for Rheumatoid Arthritis

Examples

Generic Name Brand Name
sulfasalazine Azulfidine, Sulfazine

Sulfasalazine is a medicine formed from salicylic acid (the active ingredient in aspirin) and an antibiotic, sulfapyridine. It is given by mouth (orally) and is available in time-release tablets.

How It Works

Sulfasalazine reduces joint inflammation associated with rheumatoid arthritis and slows or stops the disease from getting worse. It is also often used to treat inflammatory bowel disease.

Why It Is Used

Sulfasalazine is used for early, milder cases of rheumatoid arthritis. It may be used with other medicines such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or with disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) for more active rheumatoid arthritis.

People who have sulfa or salicylate allergies should not use this medicine.

How Well It Works

Studies show that sulfasalazine is effective in relieving the symptoms and slowing the progression of rheumatoid arthritis. It may take up to 3 months to notice an improvement.1

Side Effects

All medicines have side effects. But many people don't feel the side effects, or they are able to deal with them. Ask your pharmacist about the side effects of each medicine you take. Side effects are also listed in the information that comes with your medicine.

Here are some important things to think about:

  • Usually the benefits of the medicine are more important than any minor side effects.
  • Side effects may go away after you take the medicine for a while.
  • If side effects still bother you and you wonder if you should keep taking the medicine, call your doctor. He or she may be able to lower your dose or change your medicine. Do not suddenly quit taking your medicine unless your doctor tells you to.

Call 911 or other emergency services right away if you have:

  • Trouble breathing.
  • Swelling of your face, lips, tongue, or throat.

Call your doctor right away if you have:

  • Hives.
  • Aching joints.
  • A continuing headache.
  • Itching or a rash.

Common side effects of this medicine include:

  • Skin sensitivity to sunlight.
  • Stomach pain, nausea, loss of appetite.
  • Diarrhea.

See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)

What To Think About

You could be sensitive to sunlight while taking sulfasalazine. Wear sunglasses, and use sunscreen.

Taking medicine

Medicine is one of the many tools your doctor has to treat a health problem. Taking medicine as your doctor suggests will improve your health and may prevent future problems. If you don't take your medicines properly, you may be putting your health (and perhaps your life) at risk.

There are many reasons why people have trouble taking their medicine. But in most cases, there is something you can do. For suggestions on how to work around common problems, see the topic Taking Medicines as Prescribed.

Advice for women

If you are pregnant, breast-feeding, or planning to get pregnant, do not use any medicines unless your doctor tells you to. Some medicines can harm your baby. This includes prescription and over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, herbs, and supplements. And make sure that all your doctors know that you are pregnant, breast-feeding, or planning to get pregnant.

Checkups

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Complete the new medication information form (PDF)new medication information form (PDF)(What is a PDF document?) to help you understand this medication.

References

Citations

  1. Drugs for rheumatoid arthritis (2009). Treatment Guidelines From The Medical Letter, 7(81): 37–46.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Nancy Ann Shadick, MD, MPH - Internal Medicine, Rheumatology
Current as of June 5, 2012

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.

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