Covers leflunomide (Arava), a drug that treats active rheumatoid arthritis. Lists side effects. Warns about increased risk for infection because it suppresses the immune system. Discusses long-term safety and effectiveness.
Leflunomide for Rheumatoid Arthritis
Leflunomide is given by mouth (orally).
How It Works
Leflunomide (Arava) is a
disease-modifying antirheumatic drug (DMARD) that is used to treat
rheumatoid arthritis. It interferes with the progression of the disease by blocking the
production of white blood cells that cause the joint inflammation in rheumatoid
arthritis. Because it blocks the natural response of the
immune system, leflunomide is considered an
Why It Is Used
Leflunomide is used to treat active
rheumatoid arthritis in adults to relieve symptoms and slow the progression of
the disease. Leflunomide is considered a choice for people with active
rheumatoid arthritis who have not responded to methotrexate or
How Well It Works
Leflunomide can improve symptoms,
slow or prevent the disease from getting worse, and improve function in people
with rheumatoid arthritis. It also seems to be well tolerated and slows disease
progression as seen on X-rays.1
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:
Swelling of your face, lips, tongue, or throat.
Call your doctor if you have:
Fever and chills.
Burning with urination.
Severe belly pain or diarrhea.
Common side effects of this medicine include:
Reversible hair loss.
See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects.
(Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)
What To Think About
Leflunomide should not be used by
pregnant women or women of childbearing age who are not using reliable birth
control. Do not take leflunomide if you are breast-feeding. If you plan to
become pregnant, check with your doctor before stopping birth
control and trying to become pregnant. He or she probably will prescribe a
medicine (cholestyramine) that will remove leflunomide from your body. Your
doctor will then check to be sure that leflunomide is no longer
detectable in your body.
People taking leflunomide will need
regular monitoring of their liver function to check for signs of liver damage.
Talk with your doctor before taking leflunomide if you have ever
had liver, kidney, or immune system disease or a history of significant alcohol
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
Do not use this medicine if you are pregnant, breast-feeding, or planning to get pregnant. If you need to use this medicine, talk to your doctor about how you can prevent pregnancy.
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.
Drugs for rheumatoid arthritis (2009). Treatment Guidelines From The Medical Letter, 7(81): 37–46.
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.