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Osteoarthritis Health Center

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Arthritis Treatment Options

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Medications continued...

NSAIDs can be very helpful for relieving pain and swelling in all types of arthritis, including gout. Just be careful when you use these drugs, because they can have side effects such as stomach bleeding and an increased risk for heart attack, stroke and other cardiovascular problems, especially with use in higher doses. Read the package label and talk to your doctor to make sure you're using the lowest effective dose for the shortest possible period of time.

Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is another option for easing arthritis pain. In the past, doctors thought acetaminophen was only good for pain relief and that it did little, if anything, to reduce inflammation. Now some research suggests that acetaminophen may have some anti-inflammatory properties.

For some people, acetaminophen can relieve pain as well as NSAIDs can, and it doesn't come with the gastrointestinal and heart risks. Acetaminophen isn't entirely free from side effects, though. Because it can harm the liver and kidneys, make sure to stick with the recommended dosage and talk to your doctor if you need longer-term pain relief.

An alternative or addition to pain relievers you take by mouth, are creams or gels that you rub on your affected joints. These topical pain relief options include:

  • Capsaicin, the ingredient that gives cayenne peppers their kick, may help curb arthritis pain.
  • Counterirritants distract your brain away from the pain in your joints by irritating nerve endings and contain ingredients like menthol, camphor, and eucalyptus oil. NSAIDs also come in topical formulations, some of which are only available by prescription. Recently, the FDA issued a warning that the topical form of the NSAID diclofenac can be harmful to the liver. If you're using this drug, your doctor will need to check your liver function four to eight weeks after you start treatment.

If you've already tried a variety of pain relievers and your joints are still throbbing, or you just can't tolerate NSAIDs or acetaminophen, your doctor may recommend stronger opioid or narcotic pain relievers. These drugs can become habit-forming, so it's important that you keep in close touch with your doctor while taking them.

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