When you were first diagnosed with arthritis, you probably weren’t surprised when your doctor said that some medications would be part of your treatment plan.
Some arthritis medications help slow down the progression of the disease. Others help control the pain the condition causes.
There are a variety of medication options to cope with pain caused by arthritis. These are known as analgesics. They are often categorized into 2 groups:
- Opioid medications, also known as narcotics or painkillers
- Non-opioid medications, including acetaminophen and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
Opioid medications are very effective at eliminating pain. They are usually reserved for treating severe, short-term pain, such as post-surgical pain. Opioids can sometimes be used to treat chronic pain, but physicians are often cautious to do so for 2 reasons: They can trigger addiction, and they become less effective over time as your body becomes tolerant to them.
Opioids can cause several side effects, such as feeling fuzzy or foggy, nausea, constipation, and itchiness.
NSAIDs ease pain by alleviating inflammation. They are available as over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen (Advil) and naproxen (Aleve), or as prescription medications like celecoxib (Celebrex). Side effects of taking NSAIDs can include stomach problems, heartburn, constipation, or diarrhea.
Acetaminophen (Tylenol) works by disrupting pain signals sent to the brain. It has few side effects, but it can damage the liver if it's taken in more than the recommended dose or is combined with alcohol.
Acetaminophen is sometimes added to other medications, including cold medicines and some opioids, so people need to be cautious about accidentally taking this medication twice.
Talk with your doctor or pharmacist if you have questions or concerns about:
- How well your pain medication is working
- Whether your side effects can be eased or eliminated
- Whether it’s okay to combine certain medications or supplements