What is Penicillamine?

Eric Stolze

Penicillamine is an antirheumatic prescription drug and chelating agent. The drug is available under the Depen® and Cuprimine® brand names in many cases. Physicians may prescribe this drug as an antirheumatic medication to treat patients with rheumatoid arthritis. This medication typically slows progression of joint deformities and other problems related to rheumatoid arthritis and can improve daily functioning in some patients.

Hives may be an indication of a medication allergy.
Hives may be an indication of a medication allergy.

In some instances, penicillamine is used as a chelating agent that binds to heavy metals or chemicals and helps remove them from a patient’s body. Patients with Wilson’s disease may receive this medicine to help with the removal of excess copper from the body. High cystine levels and excessive amounts of iron or mercury may be reduced in many instances with the help of this medication. Doctors may prescribe penicillamine to treat people with lead poisoning and lower toxic lead levels in the body’s tissues.

Penicillamine may be used to treat rheumatoid arthritis.
Penicillamine may be used to treat rheumatoid arthritis.

People usually take penicillamine orally in capsule or tablet form with a glass of water. Physicians may have patients take this drug at least an hour before or an hour after they consume food, milk or other drugs to improve its absorption. Penicillamine can reduce levels of important vitamins and minerals in the body, and doctors may prescribe vitamin or mineral supplementation during treatment. Physicians may recommend that patients restrict antacid use with this drug due to the possibility that aluminum and magnesium in antacids may limit drug absorption.

Some users of penicillamine can experience allergic reactions to the drug, such as hives as well as breathing problems, throat closure and swelling of the face and tongue. Serious side effects that have been reported by some people include a sore throat, fever and unusual bleeding. Muscle weakness and double vision have occurred in some instances. In many cases, doctors recommend that patients seek emergency medical help if they develop allergic reactions or serious side effects. Other side effects that can occur with this drug may include ringing in the ears, reduced sense of taste and gastrointestinal effects such as nausea or diarrhea.

In most instances, physicians recommend that patients not use penicillamine if they currently take gold therapy drugs, such as gold sodium thiomalate, aurothioglucose or auranofin, because of potential drug interactions. Cancer chemotherapy medications, anti-malarial drugs and phenylbutazone may also cause unwanted interactions with penicillamine. The effects of digoxin may be enhanced when combined with this drug. Kidney disease patients who take this medication typically receive dosage adjustments or special monitoring from their doctors. This drug can cause birth defects and is generally not recommended for use by pregnant women or breastfeeding mothers.

A sore throat is one possible side effect of penicillamine.
A sore throat is one possible side effect of penicillamine.

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