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Arthritis Health Center

Understanding Arthritis Painkillers

Weighing the Risks and Benefits
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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.

Common Medicines for Arthritis Pain

Acetaminophen

Acetaminophen (also known by the brand name Tylenol) may be used to treat mild arthritis pain from osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis. It can be just as effective as some prescription anti-inflammatory pain relievers for mild pain -- and is easy on the stomach.

Other medications sometimes include acetaminophen as an ingredient, so make sure you don't end up taking too much of it. Overdoses of acetaminophen can damage the liver. People who drink alcohol regularly, or already have a damaged liver, should consult their doctor before taking acetaminophen.

Anti-Inflammatory Painkillers (NSAIDs)

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs called NSAIDs help relieve joint swelling, stiffness, and pain -- and are among the most commonly used painkillers for people with any type of arthritis. You may know them by the names such as ibuprofen, naproxen, Motrin, or Advil.

While NSAIDs are reasonably safe, when taken for months or years, they can cause stomach ulcers and may increase your risk for heart attack. Cox-2 inhibitors like Celebrex are more stomach-friendly, but may have a slightly higher risk of heart problems than milder NSAIDs such as ibuprofen or naproxen.

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