Joint pain is the most common symptom of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, both of which are chronic diseases that can affect the person afflicted over a long period of time. Arthritis cannot be cured, but the symptoms can be treated through a variety of products and methods. Sports-related activities as well as falls and other trauma can injure the cartilage within a joint and, if it is not provided sufficient time to heal, chronic pain and persistent disability can follow. Additionally, damage to the bone surface can start a biological process that results in joint degeneration. This, in turn, often leads to rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. This is a brief overview of some of the products currently available, through both prescription and over-the-counter, to treat the symptoms of arthritis, specifically joint pain.
Acetaminophen is a pain reliever but does not reduce swelling, which is a common symptom associated with some types of arthritis, specifically rheumatoid arthritis. As such acetaminophen, the best known of which is Tylenol, may be effective for people afflicted with osteoarthritis which often times have very little inflammation. In addition, acetaminophen does not cause stomach irritation and is less likely than nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), described later, to cause long-term side effects. Research has shown that acetaminophen relieves pain as effectively as NSAIDs for many patients with osteoarthritis. People with liver disease, people who drink alcohol heavily, and those taking blood – thinning medicines or NSAIDs should use acetaminophen with caution.
Ibuprofen is a pain reliever that combines anti-inflammatory properties with pain relief. People afflicted with rheumatoid arthritis generally have pain caused by inflammation and often benefit from aspirin or ibuprofen, the best know of which are Motrin and Advil. Unfortunately, ibuprofen products and aspirin typically cause some stomach discomfort if taken without food and have been linked to ulcers with long-term use.
What Causes Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Scientists are studying risk factors that increase the likelihood of developing a rheumatic disease. Some of these factors have been identified. For example, in osteoarthritis, inherited cartilage weakness or excessive stress on the joint from repeated injury may play a role. In rheumatoid arthritis, the combination of genetic factors that determine susceptibility and environmental triggers are believed to be important.
Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)
This class of drugs includes aspirin and ibuprofen as well as Vioxx (rofecoxib), Celebrex (celecoxib), and Bextra (valdecoxib), which are classified as COX-2 inhibitors. Aspirin and ibuprofen are used to reduce pain and inflammation, as noted above, and may be used for both short-term and long-term relief in people with osteoarthritis but are more commonly used to treat symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. The other drugs under NSAIDs are COX-2 inhibitors that work by blocking an enzyme known to cause an inflammatory response. COX-2 inhibitors had been approved for short-term use in the treatment of pain, and for longer-term use to treat the signs and symptoms of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Side effects associated with NSAIDs include stomach irritation, negative impact on kidney functions, and are often associated with serious gastrointestinal problems, including ulcers, bleeding, and perforation of the stomach or intestine. As such, people over age 65 and those with any history of ulcers or gastrointestinal bleeding should use NSAIDs with caution. As with most medications, the longer a person uses NSAIDs, the more likely he or she is to have side effects. In addition, because of the way NSAIDs alter the way the body uses or eliminates other drugs, many other drugs cannot be taken when a patient is being treated with NSAIDs. It is important to check with your health care provider or pharmacist before you take NSAIDs in addition to other medications.
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