These drugs can help alleviate mild arthritis symptoms, but they’re not suitable treatment options for everyone.
Arthritis is an umbrella term for over 100 types of conditions that lead to inflammation within one or more joints. Some of the more well-known types of arthritis include:
- rheumatoid arthritis
- psoriatic arthritis
A common link between these conditions is that they can all lead to symptoms like:
- joint pain
- joint stiffness
- joint swelling
Treatment for arthritis depends on the underlying cause. In some cases, physical therapy and surgery are needed.
However, arthritis management often involves medication. A common option that’s used to primarily alleviate mild joint pain and stiffness is known as a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID).
Unlike acetaminophen, which only relieves pain, NSAIDs are drugs that both relieve pain and reduce inflammation. All NSAIDs work by blocking an enzyme called cyclooxygenase. This enzyme contributes to the inflammation response. Blocking this enzyme helps stop the painful effects of inflammation before they happen.
Some NSAIDs like ibuprofen and naproxen are available over the counter (OTC). Other NSAIDs are only available with a prescription. Examples include:
These medications come in different forms, including pills, topical creams, and solutions. Your doctor can help you determine which option is best for you.
Although all NSAIDs essentially do the same thing, they’re not all the same because they affect people differently. Also, some options cannot be combined with other arthritis medications or be taken if you’re also managing other health conditions.
Treatment with NSAIDs is very individual. Providing your doctor with your complete medical history is important when they’re considering a specific NSAID for your treatment plan.
NSAIDs can be effective at managing arthritis pain, but they can also cause side effects. Common side effects include stomach pain and ulcers. Other less common side effects include:
- increased risk of stroke or heart attack
- ringing in the ears
- swelling in the leg
If you take a large amount of an NSAID and if you take it for a long time, your risk of developing side effects increases.
In rare instances, NSAIDs can damage your liver and kidneys. Higher dosages and longer NSAID treatment periods carry a higher risk of developing liver and kidney damage. If you have liver or kidney problems, NSAID treatment options may not be suitable for you.
An allergic reaction to these drugs is also possible, but it’s not common. A reaction is serious if you experience:
- swelling of your face or throat
- difficulty breathing
If you experience any of these symptoms while taking an NSAID, contact your doctor right away. If you think that any of these symptoms are life threatening, call 911 or your local emergency number.
If you take NSAIDs to help manage your arthritis pain, you’re probably prescribed higher doses over a long period. This treatment plan could increase your risk of stomach upset and even ulcers. Your risk is further increased if:
- you’re over age 65
- you have had ulcers or kidney problems
- you take blood thinners
Talk with your doctor if you get an upset stomach while taking NSAIDs. They may suggest switching to a different NSAID or to another drug altogether.
For example, celecoxib is considered safe for treating long-term arthritis pain. It’s generally less damaging to the stomach than other NSAIDs.
However, there are some concerns about the increased risk of heart attack and stroke associated with this drug. If you have a history of heart attacks or strokes, or risk factors for these conditions, your doctor may consider another drug for you.
You can help reduce your risk of some side effects of NSAIDs by:
- taking them with food
- using a coated tablet to help protect your stomach
- taking the lowest dose possible
- taking it for a shorter time period
If your medication still causes stomach upset, talk with your doctor about lowering the dosage. Remember to always tell your doctor about side effects, especially if they get worse.
NSAIDs work well for many people, but not everyone can take them, especially long term. You may want to consider Alternative treatments are another option you may want to consider, as long as your doctor approves.
Some people find relief from arthritis pain and stiffness with:
- a diet focused on consuming anti-inflammatory foods
- physical therapy
- hot and cold treatment
- yoga and other types of regular exercise
When you live with arthritis, your treatment plan will be tailored to your individual diagnosis and symptoms.
NSAIDs are one available treatment option for arthritis. Work with your doctor to determine where NSAIDs fit into your overall treatment plan.
Keep in mind that most NSAIDs are meant for short-term pain relief. If you are using an OTC NSAID for more than 10 days, check in with your doctor.