Examples, side effects and more

There are a variety of medications available to treat the symptoms of osteoarthritis. They include oral, topical and injection treatments. While some are available over-the-counter (OTC), others require prescriptions.Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis in the world. It affects approximately 3.3–3.6% of the world’s population. In the United States, 80% of people age 65 and older have x-ray signs of osteoarthritis. Of these people, 60% have symptoms.

Read on to learn more about osteoarthritis medications.

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There are different types of oral medications available to treat the symptoms of osteoarthritis. Some are available over the counter, while others require a prescription.

Acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) is a common over-the-counter treatment for osteoarthritis symptoms. He can provide mild to moderate pain relief. However, you should take it with caution. When taken in high doses or for long periods of time, it can cause liver damage. Follow your doctor’s instructions to prevent side effects.

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs

Common nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) include ibuprofen (Advil), naproxen (Aleve), and aspirin. These over-the-counter medications can treat both pain and inflammation. As with acetaminophen, long term use can cause serious side effects. These side effects include:

Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors

Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) are antidepressants. However, doctors may prescribe them to treat chronic pain.

In 2019, the American College of Rheumatology and Arthritis Foundation published their guidelines for the management of osteoarthritis of the hip, hand and knee. They recommended duloxetine (Cymbalta, others) for some cases of the disease. The guidelines indicate sufficient evidence that the drug might be beneficial alone or with NSAIDs.

Duloxetine can cause side effects, including headache, fatigue, hallucinations, and confusion. Talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits.

Opioids like tramadol (Ultram, ConZip, others) may be an option for some cases of osteoarthritis. Doctors may prescribe it as a last resort when other drugs and surgery aren’t good options.

Opioids are controlled substances that carry a high risk of addiction. Additionally, they can cause serious side effects, such as respiratory distress or death. You and your doctor can weigh the risks and benefits of opioids as a treatment option.

For some people with osteoarthritis, applying topical medications to affected areas of the body can relieve their symptoms. These medications come in the form of creams, sprays, patches and gels.

Some common ingredients in the topical treatment of osteoarthritis include:

  • capsaicin
  • camphor
  • menthol
  • lidocaine

Topical treatments may have fewer side effects than oral medications. However, some people may experience skin irritation at the application site.

Some topical medications are available over-the-counter, while more potent ones require a prescription. If over-the-counter topicals don’t relieve your pain, talk to your doctor about getting a prescription.

There are a few types of injections that doctors can administer to relieve osteoarthritis pain.

Doctors can administer corticosteroids directly into the affected joint to relieve pain. The pain relief from these injections can last a few days to a few months. Due to the potency of these drugs, you may only be able to get vaccinated a few times a year. It is not uncommon to experience side effects with these medications.

Hyaluronic acid injections can be an alternative to corticosteroid injections. This acid can act as a lubricant for your joints.

However, the 2019 guidelines on the management of osteoarthritis do not recommend these injections. This is because there is not enough evidence to support their benefits.

Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injections involve taking a small amount of your blood and putting it through a machine to separate the platelets. Doctors then inject the platelets back into your joints to promote healing and reduce inflammation.

More research is needed to determine the benefits of PRP injections as a treatment for osteoarthritis. These injections have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for this use. However, your doctor can legally prescribe this treatment for off-label use.

When Medication Isn’t Enough

For some people with osteoarthritis, medications and lifestyle changes may be enough to relieve their symptoms. However, when medication is insufficient, surgery may be required.

Surgical options for osteoarthritis may include:

  • Arthroscopy: For this procedure, a surgeon makes small incisions in the affected joint. This allows them to remove loose bone fragments, cysts or damaged tissue.
  • Osteotomy: An osteotomy involves realigning the long bones of the arms or legs to relieve pressure on the affected joint.
  • Joint Fusion: This procedure involves removing the affected joint by fusing it with plates, rods, pins, or screws.
  • Replacement of the joint: Some people may need to partially or completely replace their affected joint. To do this, the doctor will remove the original joint and replace it with an artificial joint.

Here are some other common questions about osteoarthritis medications. Alisha D. Vassar-Sellers, BS Pharmacy, PharmD, reviewed the responses.

What is the most effective osteoarthritis medication?

The most effective medication for osteoarthritis can vary from person to person. The area affected, the severity of the disease and your general health can influence the most effective treatments. You may need to try several medications to find the best one for you.

What is the safest medication to take for osteoarthritis?

As with any medication, medications for osteoarthritis can all cause side effects. It is essential to follow your doctor’s instructions regarding dosages and duration of use.

Can you cure osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is a progressive disease for which there is currently no cure. Treatment put the accent on relieve symptoms and maintain or improve joint functionality.

Many medications are available to treat osteoarthritis. Some are available over the counter, while others require a doctor’s prescription. Talk to your doctor to find the right one for you.

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