Home > Health Library > Azathioprine for Rheumatoid Arthritis
Azathioprine is taken orally in pill form.
Azathioprine is an immunosuppressive
medicine, which means that it decreases the action of your body's
immune system. By interrupting the immune process,
azathioprine reduces inflammation and slows joint damage caused by
rheumatoid arthritis. But lowering your immune
function may make you more susceptible to infection.
is a disease-modifying antirheumatic drug (DMARD), which means it slows the
progression of the disease. DMARDs are also called immunosuppressive drugs or
slow-acting antirheumatic drugs (SAARDs).
Azathioprine is used for severe
rheumatoid arthritis that has not responded to other treatments.
While azathioprine has been found to
reduce inflammation and slow disease progress in some people with rheumatoid
arthritis, it does not appear to be as effective as some other DMARDs.footnote 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:
Call 911 or other emergency services right away if you have:
Call your doctor if you have:
Common side effects of this medicine include:
See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects.
(Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)
These medicines can stop your immune system from fighting infection. When you are taking this medicine (and even when you have finished taking it), try not to be around people who are sick. And make sure you talk to your doctor before you get any vaccinations.
These medicines may increase your risk for cancer, including lymphoma.
Do not drink alcohol when you are taking these medicines. Combining alcohol with these medicines can increase your risk for liver damage.
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.
Women who use this medicine during pregnancy have a slightly higher chance of having a baby with birth defects. If you are pregnant or planning to get pregnant, you and your doctor must weigh the risks of using this medicine against the risks of not treating your condition.
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)(What is a PDF document?) to help you understand this medication.
Walker-Bone K, Fallow S (2007). Rheumatoid arthritis,
search date June 2005. Online version of BMJ Clinical Evidence. Also available online:
ByHealthwise StaffPrimary Medical ReviewerAnne C. Poinier, MD - Internal MedicineSpecialist Medical ReviewerNancy Ann Shadick, MD, MPH - Internal Medicine, Rheumatology
Current as ofSeptember 9, 2014
Current as of:
September 9, 2014
Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine & Nancy Ann Shadick, MD, MPH - Internal Medicine, Rheumatology
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