Medications Used to Treat Arthritis

Usually when treating arthritis, a doctor will prescribe a comprehensive treatment plan that involves proper diet, regular exercise, and some types of medications. There is currently no way to reverse the effects of arthritis, so many of the medications used are designed to help control pain and inflammation, making living with arthritis easier for the patient. While some over the counter medications are sometimes used, most treatments involve prescription medications.

Before taking any medications, including over the counter medications, it is important to speak with a doctor. Also, make sure to ask about side effects and how the prescribed medications react with other drugs or conditions.

Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs(NSAID)

Non-steroidal Anti Inflammatory Drugs(NSAIDs) are one of the more common types of medications used to treat arthritis and are designed to help treat swollen and stiff joints by regulating inflammation. While most NSAIDs require a prescription, ibuprofen, naproxen, and ketoprofen are available over the counter, although in lower dosages than a doctor would prescribe.

The side-effects of Non-steroidal Anti Inflammatory Drugs can vary, but most cause some sort of gastrointestinal problems and affect the way the kidneys operate.

COX-2 inhibitors are one of the most common NSAIDs, which are designed to reduce inflammation, while reducing the effect on the gastrointestinal tract. Most NSAIDs actually block an important enzyme from working, which is what causes the stomach problems, but COX-2 Inhibitors are designed to control inflammation, without blocking this enzyme. However, the safety of COX-2 Inhibitors is often debated, with some indications that they could be related to circulatory problems. Several popular COX-2 Inhibitors where taken off the market a few years ago, due to safety concerns.

There are also some topical NSAIDs available, which are considered safer to use, as they take longer to be absorbed by the body. However, they are often not as effective as NSAIDs that are taken orally.

One of the major downsides to using a NSAID is that it does not typically treat the problem, but only the symptom. To this end, it will not kep the disease from progressing, instead simply masking the symptoms.

Over the Counter Medications

Several NSAIDs, most notably ibuprofen, are available over the counter and are also often prescribed in larger doses by doctors. Tylenol, or Acetaminophen, is also common, which can be taken multiple times throughout the day. Often, over the counter medications provide the first line of defense or supplemental treatment, in addition to a prescribed medication. However, they are not always effective and eventually as the disease progresses, most people switch to prescription medications.


While many studies have found corticosteroids to be extremely effective, the risk of serious side effects, such as ulcers, diabetes, and osteoporosis, are much higher. One of the most common use of corticosteroids is to inject it into an inflamed joint, which can greatly reduce inflammation.

The increase in the risk of osteoporosis is of special concern for those with arthritis, as osteoporosis causes the bones to become weaker and more prone to fracture. Since the risk of a fall increases in those with arthritis, preventing osteoporosis is essential.

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