Acetaminophen Won't Help Arthritis Pain, Study Finds
Prescription diclofenac a more effective choice for short-term pain relief, researchers say
By Steven Reinberg
THURSDAY, March 17, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- Acetaminophen -- commonly known as Tylenol in the United States -- isn't an effective choice for relieving osteoarthritis pain in the hip or knee, or for improving joint function, a new study finds.
Although the drug rated slightly better than placebo in studies, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or diclofenac are better choices for short-term pain relief, the researchers said.
"Regardless of dose, the prescription drug diclofenac is the most effective drug among painkillers in terms of improving pain and function in osteoarthritis," said lead researcher Dr. Sven Trelle. He's co-director of clinical trials at the University of Bern in Switzerland.
However, even diclofenac comes with side effects.
"If you are thinking of using a painkiller for osteoarthritis, you should consider diclofenac," Trelle said, but also keep in mind that like most NSAIDs the drug increases the risk for heart disease and death.
Tylenol manufacturer McNeil Consumer Healthcare took issue with the new study. "We disagree with the authors' interpretation of this meta-analysis and believe acetaminophen remains an important pain relief option for millions of consumers, particularly those with certain conditions for which NSAIDs may not be appropriate -- including cardiovascular disease, gastrointestinal bleeding, and renal [kidney] disease," the company said in a prepared statement.
"The safety and efficacy profile of acetaminophen is supported by more than 150 studies over the past 50 years," the company added.
The new report was published March 17 in The Lancet.
Osteoarthritis is the leading cause of pain in older people. It can impair physical activity, and that increases the risk of obesity, heart disease, diabetes and general poor health, the study authors said.
One expert said it's "not surprising" that acetaminophen won't help arthritis pain.
"Osteoarthritis is caused by inflammation of the joints, and acetaminophen is not meant for inflammation," explained Dr. Shaheda Quraishi, a physiatrist at Northwell Health Pain Center in Great Neck, N.Y.
The current research included information from 74 trials published between 1980 and 2015. These trials included more than 58,000 patients. The studies compared how well various doses of acetaminophen and seven different NSAIDs relieved arthritis pain.