A diagnosis of arthritis is the first step toward successful treatment. To diagnose arthritis, your doctor will consider your symptoms, perform a physical exam to check for swollen joints or loss of motion, and use blood tests and X-rays to confirm the diagnosis. X-rays and blood tests also help distinguish the type of arthritis you have. For example, most people with rheumatoid arthritis have antibodies called rheumatoid factors (RF) in their blood, although RF may also be present in other disorders...
But despite the pain and inconvenience, she takes no medication to relieve her suffering.
Her doctor tried her on some prescription anti-inflammatory drugs, "But I was always wary of using medicines," she says. "And when the news came out showing the risk of heart attacks and strokes, I decided to stay away from drugs altogether."
Dawson is in a common bind, one shared by many Americans. She suffers from severe chronic pain but fears the side effects of common painkillers called non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs.)
Two anti-inflammatory drugs - Bextra and Vioxx - have been taken off the market because of heart risks and other side effects. A similar but slightly different drug, Celebrex, is available by prescription, with warnings about potential risk.
What should you do if you, like April Dawson, suffer significant pain from arthritis? First, it's important to understand the tradeoffs you make with all medicine. Medications can cause side effects; they also can relieve suffering. It's important to talk with your doctor about the potential benefits versus risk in your particular case. Second, it's critical to be monitored by your doctor if you are taking any medicine regularly for longer than a couple of weeks. Careful monitoring can catch side effects early.
"There's no simple answer," says cardiologist Nieca Goldberg, MD, a spokesperson for the American Heart Association and Chief of Women's Cardiac Care at Lennox Hill Hospital, New York City. The degree of risk from NSAIDs varies greatly from person to person, she says, and depends on things like your medical condition and the medicines you take.
"Pain is a serious problem and it needs to be treated," says Goldberg. "But you have to do it in the safest way possible."