There are so many individual osteoarthritis drugs on the market that providing information on each individual one would take a ton of time, so the focus here is on the different classes of medicines – what each one does, how it works, and what the possible side effects are. I’ll talk a bit individually about some of the more common drugs but this is really designed to be an overview for you so you can decide if the risks of side effects are worth taking the meds.
NSAID’s stands for Non Steroidal Anti Inflammatory Drug and is one of the most common form of pain reliever used. It can be purchased over the counter in lower doses or prescribed by a Medical Doctor for higher doses. Common drug names include Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), Naproxen (Naprosyn, Aleve). Not as commonly seen but still widely used are Feldene (Piroxicam), Indocin (Indomethacin), and Mobic (Meloxicam).
The COX-2 inhibitors include Celebrex (Celecoxib), Vioxx (Rofecoxib) (no longer on the market), and Bextra (Valdecoxib) (no longer on the market).
The side effects of these osteoarthritis drugs should not be ignored, especially for those who need some sort of pain control on a daily basis. NSAID’s and Acetaminophen may cause bleeding of the gut (which can be fatal) in 1 in 400 people or so, and 2 out of 3 of the COX-2 inhibitors were recalled after being released to the public and then discovering that they damaged the heart.
High blood pressure and kidney damage are also realistic side effects of these meds, because they reduce blood flow to the kidneys, which affects their function. Long term use may cause permanent kidney damage.
The side effects aren’t limited to the prescription meds, either. The over the counter drugs like Ibuprofen and Acetaminophen have the same concerns, which many people forget because they don’t need a prescription to buy them.
Corticosteroids are often prescribed during bouts of acute swelling and pain during flare-ups. They may be injected directly into the joint. These drugs are closely related to cortisol, a stress hormone created in the adrenal glands. Because of the increased risk of side effects during long-term use, these drugs are short-term solutions for a specific problem.
One side effect that largely goes unnoticed is that corticosteroids actually cause damage to the stabilizing structures in the joint (ligaments and tendons) which then makes the joint even less stable. As joint stability decreases, pressure on the joint increases, which causes more swelling and pain, another round of shots, and the treadmill of damage and pain control continues. Hasn’t anyone else noticed that the incidences of knee and hip replacements has gone up in conjunction with corticosteroid injections going up?
Analgesics are osteoarthritis drugs that are pain relievers only, they do not relieve inflammation.
Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is the most commonly used analgesic. It works by blocking pain signals to the brain (the pain is still there, but the brain doesn’t register it).
There are also narcotic analgesics such as Codeine (Tylenol #3), Oxycodone (OxyContin), Percocet (Oxycodone/Acetaminophen), Ultram (Tramadol), and Vicodin (Hydrocodone/Acetaminophen).
Narcotics are typically habit forming and their use should be closely monitored.
What if I Don’t Want to Take Osteoarthritis Drugs?
If after reading this you’d like to look at other options, then I recommend you look at homeopathic remedies as an alternative to meds. Whereas the osteoarthritis drugs mentioned above work on the final inflammatory pathway, homeopathic remedies work on the first part of the inflammation cascade and can be very effective at stopping it.
I’ve written an entire page on how you can ease arthritis pain naturally, so I do recommend checking it out.
There are many other alternatives for arthritis ranging from arthritis pain relief creams to supplements that can help you repair your damaged joints and decrease inflammation naturally (for example Omega-3 fatty acids from cold water fish).