Arthritis affects millions of people and can be a debilitating condition that impacts a person's mobility and quality of life. The March 2010 issue of Arthritis Care & Research revealed that 18.7 percent of Americans and 16.9 percent of Canadians suffer from some type of arthritis.
The word "arthritis" refers to more than 100 separate medical conditions that affect the musculoskeletal system and specifically the joints. According to the Arthritis Foundation, arthritis-related joint problems cause pain, stiffness, inflammation and damage to joint cartilage (the tough, smooth tissue that covers the ends of the bones, enabling them to glide against one another) and surrounding structures. Such damage can lead to joint weakness, instability and visible deformities that, depending on the location of joint involvement, can interfere with the most basic daily tasks, including walking, climbing stairs, using a computer keyboard, cutting food, or brushing teeth.
Arthritis has no cure, though medications and physical therapy may be prescribed to help manage pain and improve mobility. There are many different medicines that may be used to treat arthritis. Here is a look at some of the most common.
Topical pain relievers
These drugs are applied to areas of concern and are absorbed by the body to relieve pain. They are generally effective for people who have mild symptoms in just a few areas of the body.
Anti-inflammatory pain relievers
These pain medicines may be over-the-counter or prescription drugs. Ibuprofen and acetaminophen are common painkillers, as are nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDS. Prescription doses may be helpful for more painful symptoms.
Narcotic pain relievers
For pain that is not controlled by NSAIDS and other methods, arthritis sufferers may be prescribed narcotic drugs that are more potent. While effective, narcotic drugs are addictive. They also may cause side effects, including constipation.
Some doctors prescribe antidepressants to relieve pain. It is not fully understood how the medications affect the body's interpretation of pain, but the role of these drugs on brain chemicals may be the connection. Drowsiness and dry mouth may occur from these drugs.
For a variety of reasons, steroids are very useful at reducing inflammation in the body. But prolonged use -- especially when taken orally -- can result in a number of side effects, including weight gain and acne breakouts. Doctors try to avoid these problems by injecting the steroid into the affected joint or trying other medications in combination with steroids to keep the dose of steroids as low as possible.
Antirheumatic Drugs (DMARDs)
These drugs are often used for diseases of the autoimmune system, especially rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis or ankylosing spondylitis. These medications work by interfering with or suppressing the immune system that attacks its own joints in people with these conditions. These medications can cause serious side effects because they essentially slow down the body's ability to fend off illnesses. But for some people they are the best plan of attack for symptoms.