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What Is Leflunomide Used For?

How Does This Medicine Work?

Leflunomide belongs to a class of medications called disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs). DMARDs are a group of drugs that work in different ways to slow down the progression of rheumatoid arthritis.
Leflunomide works by blocking the body's ability to make molecules called pyrimidines. T cells are a type of immune cell known to be overactive in people with rheumatoid arthritis. They produce chemicals that cause inflammation and damage joint tissue. T cells need pyrimidines to divide, or reproduce. By inhibiting pyrimidine production, leflunomide prevents T cells from reproducing, thereby reducing inflammation and preventing joint damage.
DMARDs, such as leflunomide, are not designed to provide immediate relief from symptoms. Therefore, they may be used with medicines that can relieve ongoing symptoms, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or low doses of prednisone.

Is It Safe for Children to Take Leflunomide?

Leflunomide has not been approved for use in children, as it has not been adequately studied in children (usually defined as individuals younger than 18 years old). However, it is sometimes used "off-label" in children. Talk to your child's healthcare provider about the risks and benefits of using leflunomide in your child.

Is It Safe for Older Adults?

Yes -- leflunomide can be used in older adults. In clinical trials, people over the age of 65 responded no differently to leflunomide then younger age groups. Because older adults are more likely to have multiple medical conditions and to take multiple medications, they may need to be monitored more closely while taking leflunomide.

Are There Off-Label Reasons to Use Leflunomide?

On occasion, your healthcare provider may recommend this drug for treating something other than rheumatoid arthritis. This would be known as an "off-label" use. For example, leflunomide may be used off-label to treat juvenile idiopathic arthritis, sometimes called juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. Leflunomide is also sometimes used off-label for the treatment of psoriatic arthritis (see Arava and Psoriatic Arthritis for further information).
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