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Arthritis Pain Relief: Risks and Benefits

If osteoarthritis causes you pain, you don’t have to “just deal with it.” There are several kinds of medications and other treatment options for you to choose from. They may not eliminate your pain totally, but they can often ease it significantly and make it possible for you to do all the things you enjoy doing.

You should always talk with your doctor about starting a new medication, particularly if you are older, pregnant, on multiple medications (especially blood thinners), or have certain medical conditions (such as heart disease, high blood pressure, kidney disease, or history of stomach ulcers). Always read and follow the directions for any medications you take. You should not drink alcoholic beverages when taking acetaminophen, NSAIDs, and narcotics.

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Many people find pain relief through a regular program of diet and exercise. For patients who are overweight or obese, losing 10% of their weight reduces pain and improves function, according to a new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

WebMD takes a look at the risks and benefits of medications available to help manage osteoarthritis pain.

Over-the-Counter Pain Relievers: Medications

The advantages of over-the-counter (OTC) medications for pain relief, like acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen or naproxen sodium, include easy access, affordability, and lower risk of side effects.

OTC acetaminophen can reduce mild and moderate arthritis pain that often accompanies osteoarthritis. Follow the dosage directions on the bottle, because acetaminophen and NSAIDs can cause problems when not used according to the package label.  If taken with food or milk, you can reduce your risks of side effects.NOTE: You should not take more than 3000 mg per day unless told to do so by your doctor. You may be taking other medications that contain acetaminophen without realizing it, so you should makes sure you do not exceed 3000 mg from all sources.

NSAIDs also provide relief from pain caused by swelling and inflammation. At over-the-counter doses, NSAIDs are not as effective at reducing inflammation as higher prescription doses.

Most healthy people can safely take NSAIDs for short periods without any problems, However, NSAIDs may increase the risk of medical problems like heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure, and kidney disease. A study published in 2012 advises people who have had a heart attack to be cautious using NSAIDs because of increased risk of another heart attack and death. 

In addition, NSAIDs block the production of substances that line and protect the stomach from acids; when taken long term, some NSAID users can experience side effects related to stomach irritation and bleeding. Your doctor may recommend you take a medication such as omeprazole (Prilosec), esomeprazole (Nexium), pantoprazole (Protonix), ranitidine (Zantac), or famotidine (Pepcid) to protect your stomach. You’re at particular risk for side effects if you’re over age 75, take high doses of NSAIDs or take them over an extended period of time, or are on medications to prevent blood clots.

 

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