Sulfasalazine: a review of its use in the management of rheumatoid arthritis

Drugs. 2005;65(13):1825-49. doi: 10.2165/00003495-200565130-00008.


Sulfasalazine (salazosulfapyridine) [Azulfidine, Salazopyrin] is a well established disease-modifying antirheumatic drug (DMARD) used in the treatment of patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Clinical trials with sulfasalazine have used an array of measures of disease activity, such as the number of tender and swollen joints, Ritchie articular index (RAI) and erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR). In randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trials, sulfasalazine was associated with statistically significant benefits for various measures of disease activity, according to results of individual trials and/or meta-analysis. Sulfasalazine was associated with broadly similar efficacy to that of various other DMARDs in several randomised, double-blind, comparative trials. Promising results have also been demonstrated with sulfasalazine in combination with other DMARDs (e.g. methotrexate and hydroxychloroquine) in patients with early rheumatoid arthritis and in those with more established disease. Sulfasalazine was generally well tolerated in clinical trials, the most frequently reported adverse effects being adverse gastrointestinal effects, headache, dizziness and rash; myelosuppression can also occur. Sulfasalazine has a relatively short lag time until its onset of action and is often considered to be among the more efficacious traditional DMARDs. Based on considerations of safety, convenience and cost, many rheumatologists (particularly outside of the US) select sulfasalazine as initial therapy, although preferred first-line treatment options vary between countries.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antirheumatic Agents / adverse effects
  • Antirheumatic Agents / pharmacokinetics
  • Antirheumatic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / drug therapy*
  • Half-Life
  • Humans
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Sulfasalazine / adverse effects
  • Sulfasalazine / pharmacokinetics
  • Sulfasalazine / therapeutic use*


  • Antirheumatic Agents
  • Sulfasalazine