Arthritis medications & treatments
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Arthritis is a common condition, affecting over 54 million people in the United States alone. It often starts in adults between the ages of 40 and 50 years. Women are 3 times more likely to be affected than men. Arthritis causes painful, stiff, and swollen joints that at best make everyday activities difficult and at worst can be seriously debilitating. Here we will look at what arthritis is, what causes it, and what treatments are available.
What is arthritis?
Arthritis is caused by an inflammation of your joints, leading to joint damage, swelling, pain, and stiffness. Arthritis is caused by a variety of reasons, such as genetics, injuries, infections, other diseases, or problems with your immune system. Generally, arthritis affects older adults, but it can develop at any age. There are many different types of arthritis, such as:
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Juvenile arthritis
- Psoriatic arthritis
How is arthritis diagnosed?
Your arthritis may be diagnosed by your doctor based on your symptoms, what medications you are already taking, and if you have a family history of arthritis. To determine the exact type of arthritis you will however need additional medical tests. These may include:
- Blood tests for certain antibodies that show a particular type of arthritis, like rheumatoid arthritis
- Scans such as X-rays, MRIs, and CT scans
What are the treatment options for arthritis?
Arthritis is a long-term condition that can not be cured. There are many treatment options available for pain relief and reducing inflammation:
- Medication (prescription drugs and over-the-counter)
- Physical therapy
- Heat or ice therapy
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy
- Joint fusion
- Surgical cleaning
According to the Arthritis Foundation, some vitamins and supplements can help with arthritis symptoms. Discuss your arthritis treatment options with your healthcare provider to find the treatment that will work best for you. Bear in mind that it may be a process of trial and error or a combination of treatments that work best for you.
There are many different medications and types of medications that can be used to treat arthritis. From oral treatments to topical creams and injections. The best medication for you will depend on what type of arthritis you have, your age, your individual symptoms, and your medical history.
Corticosteroids (steroids) are taken orally or can be injected by a healthcare professional. Corticosteroids help to reduce inflammation and are immunosuppressive. Prednisone and cortisone are commonly prescribed oral corticosteroids. Corticosteroids have been known to cause weight gain, acne, and mood swings.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are used to treat arthritis. They help decrease inflammation, relieve pain, and reduce swelling. Oral NSAIDs like Advil (ibuprofen) and Motrin are available as over-the-counter pain relievers. Voltaren (diclofenac) is a topical gel pain medication also available over the counter. Naproxen, Celebrex (celecoxib), and Mobic require a prescription. NSAIDs can sometimes cause side effects like stomach ulcers or skin rash.
Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs)
DMARDs suppress your immune system, preventing it from attacking healthy joints. DMARDs are sometimes used to treat inflammatory arthritis but can cause serious liver and blood problems or make you more prone to infections. Azulfidine (sulfasalazine) and Plaquenil (hydroxychloroquine) are examples of conventional DMARDs used to treat rheumatoid arthritis.
Technically biologics are a subset of DMARDs. They may be used with traditional DMARDs or as an alternative to them. Biologics prevent certain parts of the process that lead to RA inflammation and have the ability to stop the disease process. Biologics can increase the risk of infection and are expensive. Biologics are used when methotrexate or other DMARDs have not worked entirely or cause unacceptable side effects.
Biologics fall into four categories, tumor necrosis factor (TNF) inhibitors, Interleukin (IL) inhibitors, B-cells inhibitors, and T-cells inhibitors. These medications are given by injection or infusion. Examples include Remicade (infliximab), Enbrel (etanercept), and Humira (adalimumab).
What is the best medication for arthritis?
The following table lists some of the most commonly prescribed arthritis medications.
Best medications for arthritis
|Brand name||Active ingredient||Drug class||Dosage form||Dosage||Common side effects|
|Naprosyn||naproxen||NSAID||Tablet||250 mg twice daily||Upset stomach, changes in vision|
|Voltaren||diclofenac||NSAID||Tablet or topical||50 mg twice daily, or as directed||Upset stomach, skin irritation|
|Mobic||meloxicam||NSAID||Tablet||7.5 mg once daily||Upset stomach, allergic reaction|
|Orapred||prednisone||Corticosteroid||Tablet or liquid||5-10 mg daily||Stomach pain, mood swings, blurred vision|
|Azulfidine||sulfasalazine||DMARD||Delayed release tablet||1000 mg twice daily||Heartburn, diarrhea, stomach pain|
|Remicade||infliximab||Biologic||Injection or infusion||3-5mg/kg on weeks 0, 2, and 6||Fever chills, pain|
What are the most common side effects of arthritis medications?
All medications can cause side effects. Common side effects of arthritis medications are:
- Upset stomach
- Changes in urination
- Swelling or weight gain from water retention
- Skin rash
- Kidney problems
- Increased blood pressure
Arthritis treatments may cause more serious side effects such as:
- Changes in vision
- Changes in mood or behavior
- Severe stomach pain or vomiting
This is not a full list of side effects. Arthritis medications can also cause life-threatening allergic reactions. Symptoms include hives, difficulty breathing, and swelling of the face and throat. Seek immediate medical attention if you believe you are having an allergic reaction or any unwanted side effects.
Frequently asked questions about arthritis
Do treatments for arthritis cause weight gain?
Some arthritis medications can cause weight gain, but other medications can cause weight loss. You should discuss any concerns you have with your doctor.
What is the safest medication for arthritis?
Only a doctor can decide which medication is safest for you. Based on your particular symptoms, and any other health concerns you have, as well as your progress and response to treatment. Arthritis is commonly treated with a combination of medications, lifestyle changes, and treatments like physical therapy. Your doctor can help you determine what type of treatment will work best for you.
Are there any over-the-counter medicines for arthritis?
There is a range of over-the-counter medications for arthritis. Tylenol (acetaminophen) or NSAIDs like Advil, Aspirin, or Aleve. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like these will help reduce inflammation and pain. Your doctor may recommend some vitamins or supplements to complement your treatment.
How do I know I have arthritis?
Symptoms of arthritis can vary from person to person, but may include:
- Joint pain, stiffness, swelling, tenderness, tiredness or aches
- Pain that’s worse in the morning or worse with inactivity
- Pain during or after physical activity
- Limited movement in the joints
Will arthritis go away on its own?
Arthritis is a chronic condition that will not go away on its own. Symptoms of arthritis can be managed using a combination of treatments, such as medications, weight loss, exercise, physical therapy, injections, or surgery. These treatments are not a cure but will help to relieve the symptoms.
Is arthritis fatal?
No. Arthritis is not a fatal condition. However, some types of arthritis, like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, can contribute to other medical problems that may be life-threatening. Conditions include heart disease, lung disease, and kidney problems.
Can certain foods make arthritis worse?
Refined foods such as refined sugar, alcohol, refined carbs, and fried foods can make your arthritis symptoms worse. These foods can cause inflammation and make your arthritis worse. Speak to your doctor for information on how to manage your arthritis through your diet.
RELATED: Foods to avoid with arthritis
What are the best supplements for arthritis?
Vitamin D, vitamin B, glucosamine, curcumin, fish oil, ginger, and turmeric may help reduce arthritis pain and inflammation.
What is the latest drug for arthritis?
Janus kinase inhibitors (JAK inhibitors) are a new drug that can help treat rheumatoid arthritis. JAK inhibitors belong to the family of medicine called DMARDs. JAK inhibitors approved by the FDA for rheumatoid arthritis include baricitinib (Olumiant), tofacitinib (Xeljanz), and upadacitinib (Rinvoq).
Related resources for arthritis
- 5 Types of Medication That Treat Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA). Arthritis-health.com
- JAK Inhibitors for Rheumatoid Arthritis. WebMD
- Rheumatoid Arthritis. Cedars-Sinai
- Joint Pain and Arthritis. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- Exercise: Rx for overcoming osteoarthritis. Harvard Health