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Painkillers and Medicines Used to Treat Arthritis

  • Published: 2010-06-21 (Revised/Updated 2018-03-16) : Author: Sally Rider
  • Synopsis: Information on medicines and painkillers currently available to treat arthritis pain at home.

Main Document

"While these drugs do not at all promise to cure the debilitating condition, they are seen to significantly reduce pain, alleviate the symptoms and perhaps slow down the progression of arthritis."

The major complaint arthritis sufferers have is pain. Normally, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines, or NSAIDs are used to help relieve pain and reduce inflammation caused by arthritis.

For mild pain simple analgesics (pain killers) are adequate. An example is acetaminophen (Tylenol). The advantage of analgesics is that they are relatively safe and for mild arthritis-related pain, they are effective. The downsides are that for more severe pain they may not be enough. Also, acetaminophen taken long term has significant toxicity related to kidney and liver damage and hypertension.

While these drugs do not at all promise to cure the debilitating condition, they are seen to significantly reduce pain, alleviate the symptoms and perhaps slow down the progression of arthritis.

People are quite familiar with aspirin, naproxen, and ibuprofen which are readily available over the counter safely. The downside with such drugs, however, is that they can cause complications with the stomach such as ulcers, bleeding, and indigestion. Such drugs are also known as blood thinners which may make patients vulnerable to bleeding, high blood pressure, and fluid retention.

A step up are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS). These drugs block inflammation and relieve pain, swelling, redness, and heat. Examples include ibuprofen (Motrin), naproxyn (Naprosysn), etodolac (Lodine), and nabumetone (Relafen). COX-2 drugs such as Celebrex are also anti-inflammatory drugs. Other COX-2 drugs- Vioxx and Bextra - were taken from the market because of concerns over their cardiovascular safety.

While often effective for more severe arthritis symptoms, they also may not be strong enough. They also do not slow the course of arthritis progression. In addition, they have significant toxicity including stomach ulcers, liver and kidney damage, as well as the increased tendency for all of these NSAIDS, not just the COX-2 drugs, to cause cardiovascular events such as stroke and heart attack.

Another type of anti-inflammatory drug that should be used with caution by an experienced rheumatologist is prednisone. This is a corticosteroid and has powerful anti-inflammatory effects. It also has many potential side effects.

For more severe kinds of arthritis such as rheumatoid arthritis and psoriatic arthritis, a category of medicines called disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs are needed.

These drugs help to slow down progression of disease. Examples include hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil), methotrexate, sulfasalazine (Azulfidine), and azathioprine (Imuran). Newer drugs called biologic response modifiers (BRMS) are even more effective and have revolutionized our approach to treating arthritis. Examples include etanercept (Enbrel), adalimumab (Humira), and infliximab (Remicade). These drugs also have potential side effects including lowered resistance to infection, reactivation of tuberculosis, a neurologic disorder similar to multiple sclerosis, and possibly an increased incidence of lymphoma.

Newer second generation biologic therapies such as Rituxan and Orencia are also being used with success.

While these drugs do not at all promise to cure the debilitating condition, they are seen to significantly reduce pain, alleviate the symptoms and perhaps slow down the progression of arthritis.

A special type of NSAID could be used instead, specifically those known as COX-2. They perform the same function as other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory treatment for arthritis but they do not cause much complications with the stomach. Such type of arthritis drugs work by inhibiting the release of cyclooxygenase, an enzyme which is seen to be involved with inflammation. The disadvantage with COX-2 inhibitors however is they still have the side effects of high blood pressure and fluid retention as other NSAIDs. Moreover, these drugs have been observed to increase the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Another type of medicine, known as corticosteroids, is now seen to be quite helpful in reducing inflammation and pain associated with arthritis. They also help control the damages caused by arthritis to joints. A lot of patients who took corticosteroids report that they felt significant relief from their arthritis. The downside with this type of drugs is that their effectiveness may diminish over time and they can also increase risks of weight gain, diabetes and reduced bone density.

Because arthritis also affects one's immune system, immunosuppressants can be prescribed to help maintain the immune system's balance. Failing to do so could cause the arthritis to progress in such a way that the immune system would go haywire. Additionally, TNF blockers may be used in combination with immunosuppressants for further alleviation of symptoms. These types of drugs inhibit the release of particular types of proteins that cause inflammation of the joints. Those who receive such treatment were found to have lower pain and improvement with their stiffness.

Early detection of arthritis is very important especially that there is still no known cure for the disease. However, early detection is important to help sop the disease from progressing to unmanageable levels. The medications mentioned above could greatly help patients especially those whose conditions are diagnosed early.

Those who have been diagnosed quickly can make the most of the said drugs and take advantage of the symptom alleviating effects as well as their preventive capabilities for further disease progression. They can greatly avoid further damage that can worsen anyone's condition.

Not all types of arthritis are treated with the medicines described above. For instance, gout, a crystal-induced form of arthritis is treated with drugs to lower uric acid in the blood. Lyme disease is an infectious form of arthritis and is treated with antibiotics, and Fibromyalgia is a form of arthritis treated often with serotonergic drugs.

Similar Topics

1 : Post-Traumatic Arthritis: Symptoms, Prevention & Treatment : Thomas C. Weiss.
2 : List of Different Types of Arthritis : Disabled World.
3 : Younger Veterans Develop Arthritis at Higher Rates and Younger Age : The Rep for Vet.
4 : Obesity and Knee Arthritis : American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.
5 : Etanercept Helps Restore Normal Growth in Children with Juvenile Arthritis : Wiley-Blackwell.
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