Penicillamine for Rheumatoid Arthritis

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Penicillamine for Rheumatoid Arthritis


Generic NameBrand Name
penicillamineCuprimine, Depen

Penicillamine is given orally, in capsule or tablet form.

How It Works

Penicillamine reduces inflammation from rheumatoid arthritis and slows progression of the disease. Penicillamine is a substance that normally is used to bind and remove metals and toxic chemicals from the blood.

Why It Is Used

Penicillamine may be used when rheumatoid arthritis is not controlled by other medicines. Rheumatologists do not usually give penicillamine as a first treatment for rheumatoid arthritis since methotrexate and other DMARDs are available.

Penicillamine can be used by people who have penicillin allergies. But talk to your doctor before taking any other medicines while also taking penicillamine.

How Well It Works

One review reports that treatment with penicillamine for about 6 months reduces rheumatoid arthritis activity and joint inflammation. But common and sometimes serious side effects limit its use.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 if you have:

  • Hives.
  • Fever or chills.
  • Muscle weakness or tingling.
  • Skin rash and itching.
  • Sore throat or coughing and wheezing not caused by a cold.
  • Unusual bruising or bleeding.

Common side effects of this medicine include:

  • Diarrhea.
  • Loss of taste or smell.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Ringing in the ears (tinnitus).

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

What To Think About

Take this medicine on an empty stomach.

Make sure you get enough water when taking this medicine. Try to drink enough water to keep your urine light yellow or clear like water (about 8 to 10 glasses of water a day). Drinking extra water before bed and during the night can reduce the amount of medicine you need to prevent kidney stones.

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

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.

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



  1. Walker-Bone K, Fallow S (2007). Rheumatoid arthritis, search date June 2005. Online version of BMJ Clinical Evidence. Also available online:


ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerAnne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerNancy Ann Shadick, MD, MPH - Internal Medicine, Rheumatology
Last RevisedJune 5, 2012

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