Safe Strategies for Using Over-the-Counter Arthritis Drugs

The most important part of an arthritis patient’s arsenal is over-the-counter inflammatory drugs; they are also the most available. Most patients take them for years without experiencing any problems. However, it’s necessary to know potential side-effects and health risks that can result from overuse. shares the following strategies for using over-the-counter arthritis drugs

Risk of ulcers and stomach problems

Each year, approximately 100,000 Americans suffer from ulcers and gastrointestinal bleeding associated with the use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), reports the American College of Gastroenterology.

What’s more, 15,000-20,000 die each year from the same conditions.

Over 14 million people with arthritis take NSAIDs regaularly, and up to 60% of them will suffer from related gastrointestinal side effects. Examples of over-the-counter NSAIDs include aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxene. These medications also come in prescription form.

Risk to heart and kidney

Taking NSAIDs can increase blood pressure by decreasing the flow of blood through the kidneys and slowing them down. When the kidneys are not functioning perfectly, sodium (salt) builds up in the bloodstream which causes blood pressure to rise. And of course, the kidneys get damaged and are at risk for failure. Some anti-inflammatories have been linked to increased risk of heart attack and stroke. This is why a well-known arthritis drug called Vioxx was removed from the market.

According to David David Pisetsky, MD, professor of medicine in the division of rheumatology and immunology at Duke University, the risk of side effects was attributed to the size and frequency of the dose, which makes people with arthritis leading targets. Dr. Pietsky recommends taking the drugs only when needed, but not on continual basis.

Your doctor needs to know         

Patients usually underreport their NSAID use because they treat it as everyday medicine, but actually, chronic use should be monitored by your doctor.

Sharon Kolasinski, MD, interim director of the rheumatology division at the University of Pennsylvania says, "You should have some blood work done before you start the medication if you’re going to be taking it on a regular basis, have it checked again to make sure there aren’t any problems."

Keeping the risks in perspective

Dr. Kolasinski says, "For people with preexisting medical problems, like congestive heart failure or renal insufficiency, these drugs are more likely to cause side effects. But those are the exceptions. By and large most people taking nonsteroidals have no side effects. But what people worry about nowadays is: The longer I take it, am I more likely to have a heart attack, a stroke. And of course there is some data to suggest that there can be a risk. The risk is small but the risk is not zero."

Dr. Kolanski also stresses how crucial taking care of yourself is. "Reduce all your risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Maintain a good weight, regular exercise, control of blood pressure and diabetes. You’re much safer using these drugs if you’re generally taking good care of yourself."



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