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Arthritis health centre


BMJ Group Medical Reference


This information is for people who have rheumatoid arthritis. It tells you about penicillamine, a treatment used for rheumatoid arthritis. It is based on the best and most up-to-date research.

Does it work?

Yes. Penicillamine can help to reduce the pain and swelling of rheumatoid arthritis. But it is not used very often because side effects from this drug are quite common and can be serious. You'll probably try another drug first. Studies show that up to a quarter of people stop taking the drug because of side effects.

What is it?

Penicillamine belongs to a group of drugs that are used to slow down the disease. These drugs are called disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs for short). They also help ease the pain and swelling in your joints.

Penicillamine takes a few months to work, and your doctor may prescribe it together with other DMARDs. You may need to take a combination of drugs for many months. But once your symptoms improve, you may be able to stop taking some of them. If your arthritis is not getting better or you get severe side effects with penicillamine, your doctor may advise you to stop taking it.

You take penicillamine as a tablet once a day. The brand name is Distamine. You will start on a low dose, probably 125 milligrams. Then your doctor will increase your dose every one or two months until your arthritis starts to improve. The maximum dose you can take is about 1,500 milligrams every day.

How can it help?

Penicillamine can reduce the pain and swelling in your joints. This may make it easier for you to do everyday things like going shopping, doing the housework, having sex, seeing your friends and doing other activities you enjoy.

Research shows that taking penicillamine can help in the following ways. [59]

  • It can reduce pain in your joints: If your joints are less painful, you may find it easier to do everyday things like walking or working. If you have rheumatoid arthritis in your hands, you may also find that gripping things, like cups, is easier.

  • It can reduce swelling in your joints: You may have fewer swollen joints when taking penicillamine. You may also find that the amount of swelling in your joints goes down. This should help your joints move more easily. You may find it easier to pick up small things or fasten your buttons.

Other studies show that penicillamine reduces pain and swelling as well as many other drugs used for rheumatoid arthritis. [27] [34] [60] [61]

How does it work?

Scientists don't know exactly how penicillamine works. Research so far shows that it stops the cells involved with causing inflammation from working properly. [32] This prevents the joints from swelling and becoming painful.

Last Updated: August 15, 2013
This information does not replace medical advice.  If you are concerned you might have a medical problem please ask your Boots pharmacy team in your local Boots store, or see your doctor.

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