Just as there’s a spectrum of symptoms among people with rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis-from minimal to severe ¬there’s a broad spectrum of medications to help control the disease’s pain and, in many cases, its damage. You and your physician have many options.
Medications can help if there’s a need for pain relief, increased level of activity or prevention of further damage from inflammation. Some medications are relatively mild and sold without a prescription-common enough to be found for sale in vending machines and convenience stores. Others are powerful prescription-only drugs.
The benefits of these drugs must be weighed against potentially dangerous side effects. They can help make life pain-free and active again, as long as they’re taken with extreme care and attention to your doctor’s instructions. Some drugs, such as those related to aspirin, are used in several forms of arthritis, whereas others are used in only certain forms.
If you have osteoarthritis, you can benefit from several drug therapies, particularly for the relief of pain. These medications include aspirin and related drugs, acetaminophen, other pain relievers and a few other types of medications.
In rheumatoid arthritis, the purpose of the medication is not only pain relief but also reduction of inflammation and the resulting potential for damage to the joints. Ideally, physicians and scientists hope to reduce the symptoms by controlling the underlying immune system abnormalities that led to the disease symptoms in the first place.
Also, controlling inflammation is one of the keys to reducing pain and getting you back into the lifestyle you want to pursue.
There are four primary groups of medications that doctors recom¬mend for rheumatoid arthritis. Some are available for over-the-counter purchase. Most, however, are prescription drugs:
• Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), including aspirin.
• Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), or remittive drugs
• Immunosuppressant drugs
Other drugs also can be used to treat arthritis. For example, topical creams can provide some pain relief. And acetaminophen is an effective pain reliever that may be among the safest drugs used by people with arthritis. Antidepressants also can be helpful.