When you have arthritis pain, you need relief. But with so many warnings in
the news about painkillers, it's hard to know the best choice. Many medications
that ease arthritis pain have the potential for health risks, including
increased risk for heart attack, stomach problems, or infections.
You have difficult decisions to make, whether you're fighting pain from
osteoarthritis that comes with age -- or pain from rheumatoid arthritis, a
debilitating immune disorder. Do you somehow tough out the pain? Or do you
accept the risk because your pain requires it, and take the drug for arthritis?
Which drug is right for your body? And which medicine may work best for your
type of arthritis?
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...
First, says Patience White, MD, chief public health officer for the
Arthritis Foundation, it's important to keep in mind that the risks of
arthritis drugs are really quite low. "There are risks," she says, "but
depending on the drug you may have a greater chance of getting hit by a car
crossing the street than having side effects of the drugs we're talking
Second, many people with arthritis need pain relief in order to go about
their daily lives and get the exercise that could improve their condition.
Easing arthritis pain can help someone with osteoarthritis "get up and
going, and get walking," White tells WebMD. "If you have
osteoarthritis, losing 15 pounds will stop the progression of your disease and
reduce your pain. Then you can quit taking the pain medication!"
Although pain from rheumatoid arthritis cannot be reduced through weight
loss, the risk of not treating this immune disease is even more dramatic.
Without treatment, RA tends to progress and worsen. New drugs called biologics
can stop the damaging effects of the disease. "These drugs carry a slight
risk of cancer, because they suppress the immune system," says White.
"Yet if you don't take them, you are going to be disabled. You have to put
that risk-benefit ratio on the table."
She offers an analogy: Would someone decide against cancer treatment that
offers a possible cure simply because they were afraid of chemotherapy
Deciding on Arthritis Pain Medicine
White advises people to make their decisions only after talking with a
trusted health care provider. Ask key questions so you fully understand the
benefits and risks of your medication, says White: "What are my risks?
What is the chance this could happen?"
Also, get the emotional and practical support you need to cope with
arthritis pain during treatment, says Nortin Hadler, MD, a rheumatologist and
professor of medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and
author of Worried Sick.
Hadler has researched the mind-body connection in arthritis pain, and has
found that people who may be lonely or depressed feel pain more acutely.
To help you understand your options, here are common medicines for arthritis
pain. Keep in mind, different drugs are often used to treat osteoarthritis,
rheumatoid arthritis, and other less common forms of arthritis. This
information covers the most commonly prescribed painkillers. Talk to your
doctor to learn about more options.