Anti-Inflammatory Drugs for Arthritis
Arthritis is a painful and uncomfortable condition, but one which many of us will experience as we age. With wear and tear it is natural for the cartilage in your joints to degrade. This causes the inflammation, pain, and stiffness associated with osteoarthritis.
Other types of arthritis are not related to aging and include rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disorder; juvenile arthritis, which afflicts children; and psoriatic arthritis, which is accompanied by a skin condition.
Treatment for arthritis depends on the underlying cause. For most people, however, there are some common themes to effective manage the condition. Painkillers relieve the pain and stiffness in joints and give a greater range of motion. Alternatives, or complements, to using painkillers include physical therapy and surgery. The latter is only used when other treatments have little or no effect.
The most important type of painkiller for those who suffer with arthritis is a class of drugs called nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs. These are drugs that relieve pain and also reduce inflammation when taken at high doses. Some NSAIDs are available over the counter, like ibuprofen and naproxen, although they can be prescribed in higher doses. Prescription NSAIDs include celecoxib, diclofenac, meloxicam, nabumetone, piroxicam, and sulindac.
Not All NSAIDs Are the Same
All NSAID drugs have a similar ability to reduce pain and inflammation in your joints. They work by blocking an enzyme called cyclooxygenase, which is a part of the inflammation pathway in your body.
Although they all do essentially the same thing, NSAIDs are not the same in practice, because they affect people differently. People respond differently to some of the drugs, while certain medications cannot be combined with others or be taken if you have particular medical conditions.
Common Side Effects of NSAIDs
NSAIDs are effective at managing the pain of arthritis, but they can produce some unfortunate side effects at the same time. Stomach pain and ulcers are common, especially if you take NSAIDs for a long period of time.
Other possible side effects include:
- increased risk of stroke or heart attack
- headaches and dizziness
- ringing in the ears
Serious Side Effects of NSAIDs
If you’re starting NSAID therapy for arthritis pain you should know about the rare, but serious, potential side effects. In rare instances the drugs can cause damage to your liver and kidneys. If you have liver or kidney problems already, you may not be able to take NSAIDs.
An allergic reaction to these drugs is also possible but not common. A reaction is serious if you experience wheezing, swelling in your face or throat, and breathing difficulty.
Stomach Upset and Ulcers
Stomach upset caused by NSAIDs is common and can be serious. If you are using NSAIDs over a long period of time and at high doses, which is typical for arthritis treatment, you could experience stomach upset and even ulcers.
You are at a greater risk if you are over 65, have had ulcers or kidney problems, or are taking blood thinners. Speak with your doctor if you get stomach upset. There may be better medications for you.
Minimizing Side Effects
You can reduce the risk of NSAID side effects by taking your medication with food and by using a coated tablet. This will protect your stomach from the drug. Never take more than the recommended dosage. If your medication still causes stomach upset, you can talk to your doctor about lowering the dosage further. Remember to always speak with your doctor when new side effects arise or get worse.
Rofecoxib and Celecoxib
One type of NSAID, which includes the currently available celecoxib, was once celebrated for having minimal effect on the stomach in patients with arthritis. But questions arose over the increased risk of heart attack and stroke.
Investigations led to rofecoxib (Vioxx) being pulled from the market. Celecoxib remains on the market and is considered to be safe for long-term arthritis pain. Although there are still some concerns about heart attack and stroke, this NSAID does less damage to the stomach than others.
Alternatives for Arthritis Pain
NSAIDs work well for some people, but not everyone can take these drugs, especially over the long term. Alternative treatments are worth a try, as long as your doctor approves. Some people find relief from arthritis with:
- a diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods
- physical therapy
- hot and cold treatment
- yoga and other types of regular exercise
Arthritis: Alternative Medicine. (2013,
January 22). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved September
23, 2013, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/arthritis/DS01122/DSECTION=alternative-medicine
● Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs for Arthritis. (2010). Cleveland Clinic. Retrieved September 23, 2013, from http://my.clevelandclinic.org/disorders/Arthritis/hic_Nonsteroidal_Anti-Inflammatory_Medications_for_Arthritis.aspx
● A-to-Z Guide for Managing Arthritis. (2013). Arthritis Foundation. Retrieved September 23, 2013, from http://www.arthritistoday.org/tools-and-resources/tools/manage-arthritis.php