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Medicine for Arthritis Pain Relief

written by: Jacquelyn Gilchrist • edited by: Donna Cosmato • updated: 2/24/2011

When you were diagnosed with arthritis, your doctor likely gave you the names of a wide array of medicine for arthritis pain relief. However, what's the difference between them? Get the scoop on all of your arthritis treatment options.

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    NSAIDs

    NSAID is an acronym for nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. These are a group of medications that include naproxen and ibuprofen. NSAIDs can help both arthritis pain and arthritis inflammation. These drugs are commonly available without a doctor's prescription or over-the-counter (OTC). However, some of them, such as naproxen, are also available in stronger, prescription-strengths. Your doctor may recommend this medicine for arthritis pain relief.

    NSAIDs are usually taken orally or by mouth. However, some may also be available in the form of a cream or ointment. These are smoothed over your achy joints. Before using an NSAID for your arthritis, be aware that the side effects can include stomach irritation. It is also possible for some of them to raise the risk of a stroke or heart attack, so talk to your doctor if you have risk factors for these conditions.

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    Analgesics

    Analgesics may help alleviate your arthritis pain; however, they do not reduce arthritic inflammation. Common kinds of analgesics include acetaminophen and tramadol. Narcotics that have hydrocodone or oxycodone are also in this category of drug. If the NSAIDs are not strong enough to relieve your pain, your doctor may recommend that you try an analgesic.

    Patients should be aware that acetaminophen may increase the risk of liver damage, particularly when a high dosage is taken over a long period of time. Some side effects can include nausea, vomiting, dry mouth, and drowsiness. More rarely, some patients have reported hallucinations, confusion and muscle rigidity.

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    Hyaluronan Injection

    Not all arthritis drugs are taken orally; a hyaluronan injection is another type of medicine for arthritis pain relief. It is used specifically for patients suffering from osteoarthritis of the knee. This shot is administered directly into the joint to reduce pain and improve mobility. Your doctor may recommend it if you have not obtained sufficient relief from oral drugs.

    Before using a hyaluronan injection, patients should be aware that they may experience temporary pain and swelling from the shot. You must inform your doctor if you have allergies, such as allergies to eggs, birds or feathers.

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    DMARDs

    DMARDs, or disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs, are another arthritis treatment option. These are typically used for patients with rheumatoid arthritis; patients with psoriatic arthritis may also try them. Some examples include hydroxychloroquine and methotrexate. Your doctor may recommend that you try more than one DMARD. These drugs work by inhibiting the immune system, because the immune system attacks the joints in patients suffering from these inflammatory diseases.

    Side effects can vary depending on the specific DMARD you take. Some may cause diarrhea, mouth sores, and gastrointestinal upset. Kidney damage, liver damage, and urinary problems may also occur.

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    Corticosteroids

    Corticosteroids, which are anti-inflammatory drugs, are another type of medicine for arthritis pain relief. These drugs may be swallowed as tablets or injected into the joint. Some types of corticosteroids include hydrocortisone, cortisone and prednisone. They work by suppressing the immune system.

    Before taking an oral corticosteroid, be aware that the side effects can include elevated blood pressure, increased pressure in the eyes, weight gain, and mood swings. Long-term side effects can include risk of infections, high blood sugar, and thinning of the bones due to calcium loss.

    If your doctor prescribes an injected corticosteroid, understand that you may experience pain and infection at the injection site. You may also notice a loss of color in the skin, as well as a shrinkage of the soft tissues.

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    References

    Mayo Clinic Staff, "Treatment and Drugs," http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/arthritis/DS01122/DSECTION=treatments-and-drugs

    WebMD, "Arthritis: Arthritis Medicines Overview," http://www.webmd.com/osteoarthritis/guide/medicines-overview

    Mayo Clinic Staff, "Prednisone and Other Corticosteroids," http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/steroids/HQ01431