It can be tempting to rely solely on pills to take away the pain of arthritis, but medications are most useful when used alongside other self-management tools. It’s important to discuss the different options with your doctor so that you take the right medicine in the right dose at the right time.
Many pain relievers hinder the production of prostaglandins which the body releases in response to illness or injury. Prostaglandins promote healing by sending blood and nutrients to the site, creating what we call inflammation.
Not all prostaglandins cause problems however. They have many functions and are found all over the body, which is why medications that hinder their production may have side effects.
Paracetamol is a simple pain reliever that can ease mild to moderate pain. It affects prostaglandin production and makes the body less aware of pain. Paracetamol is generally well tolerated, although some people are allergic to it, and an overdose can damage the liver, so it’s important to take it correctly.
NSAIDS (Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs)
These reduce inflammation, joint swelling and stiffness. They can also relieve pain that is not controlled by analgesics alone. Common names include ibuprofen, diclofenac, naproxen and tenoxicam (brand names are different). NSAIDS block the enzymes that are responsible for making prostaglandins, but they can have serious side effects, especially for the stomach, kidneys and lungs, so they need to be used carefully and should be taken with food.
These are used for severe or chronic pain, although there is increasing reluctance internationally to prescribe them for arthritis pain; non-opioids combined with self-management techniques may be just as effective. They range in strength from drugs like codeine to tramadol, morphine, and pethidine. Opioids work by attaching to specific proteins in various parts of the body and preventing pain messages from reaching the brain. Side effects include constipation, nausea, vomiting, and drowsiness. Dependence and addiction do not usually occur if these drugs are prescribed properly.
For more on pain and medications, see the webinar “Managing Pain” on our website www.arthritis.org.nz/webinars
Mind your medicines
- Understand why you are taking the medicine and what the possible side effects are.
- Always read the labels and take your medicines as directed.
- Keep a personal record of all your medicines with you, including doses and allergies.
- Be careful if you also take over-the-counter medicines, including natural products, as some can cause problems if taken together.
- Do not share your medicines with friends or relatives. The drugs you are taking may be harmful to them.
- Talk to your doctor or pharmacist if you’re not sure about anything.
For more information, visit the links below:
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