Treatment of arthritis is generally done with physical therapy. If possible it is often used as the only means of treatment. However, the conditions often get reported at such stages that medicines are needed along with physical therapy to relieve the patient from the pain and other complications.
Interestingly, the availability of medicines is not a problem that a patient may face as there are hosts of over the counter as well as prescription drugs available for the treatment.
The drugs that are generally used are analgesics or pain relievers; Disease Modifying Anti Rheumatic Drugs or DMARDs; biological response modifiers, also known as Biologic DMARDs; corticosteroids and even chemotherapy drugs.
Medicines for Treating Arthritis
Analgesics are the drugs that provide pain relief and a huge variety is seen in this class of drugs. You can get both over the counter drugs and prescription drugs.
The common over the counter drugs are ibuprofen, aspirin, acetaminophen, naproxen, etc. while the prescription drugs are propoxyphene, narcotics oxycodone and codeine. Sometimes combinations of various drugs are used to give pain relief.
Anti-inflammatory drugs act on inflammation of the joints and while reducing the condition also relieve pain. It can be topical in nature and may be used to treat mild conditions when only the joints are lightly affected.
The drugs that are called NSAIDs (Non-steroidal anti inflammatory drugs) are the commonest of anti-inflammatory drugs and anybody suffering from arthritis is generally prescribed one at some point of treatment. The common NSAIDs are ibuprofen, fenbufen, indomethacin, naproxen, etc.
Acetaminophen is the commonest of all drugs used to treat arthritis while narcotic drugs are used to relieve pain only when it is severe. Narcotic drugs can sometimes show side-effects like constipation and urinary problems. In some cases physicians prescribe antidepressants to treat chronic conditions. Though the mechanism is not clearly understood, it is believed that they can suppress some brain chemicals that provide relief.
These are quite powerful and effective drugs and their anti-inflammatory property is used for treatment of various types of arthritis.
But the problem with such drugs is that they have numerous side-effects. In fact they are not generally recommended for long term use. So, if possible, the physicians resort to one time injection of the steroid at the affected point on the body. They also use it in conjunction with other drugs to keep the use of steroid as low as possible.
This is used generally for the treatment of osteoarthritis and the drug is injected directly into the affected joints. This has been found to be very effective in decreasing pain and increasing mobility of the joints.
Disease Modifying Anti Rheumatic Drugs (DMARDs)
These are categorized in the second line of treatment of arthritis and rheumatism. While anti-inflammatory drugs and steroids are enough to relieve pain, they cannot prevent bone degeneration, the main cause of conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing arthritis and psoriatic arthritis.
So those patients who are suffering from such degenerative types of arthritis are prescribed DMARDs. However, these are not fast acting and may take a long time (weeks to months) to show their effects. So treatment with these is also long term. When they become effective they can stop or reverse the degeneration process. DMRDs act by acting on the immunity system of the body either by interfering with or suppressing the systems.
The general drugs in this category are sulfasalazine, penicillamine, methotrexate, azathioprine, etc. One of the DMARDs is hydroxychloroquine, a drug relating to quinine, is often used over a long time for treating rheumatoid arthritis. However, these drugs can cause side effects which may not be serious.
Biological Response Modifiers or BRMs
These are also known as biologic DMARDs and aim at modifying the body’s reaction to diseases and infections. Normally, all of our bodies produce these substances in some amounts. But sometimes synthetic BRMs are used to supplement the amount for treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and other diseases including cancer.
Such BRMs include monoclonal antibodies, interleukin-2 and interferon, and colony stimulating factors. Treatment with BRMs has its own set of side-effects and may sometimes need hospitalization for constant monitoring during the treatment. However, such side-effects go away gradually after the treatment for arthritis stops.
Arthritis is such a condition that it is difficult to live with it and treatment with medicines is most of the times the only way to provide relief. But it is always better to go for a physician’s advice rather just popping some over the counter drugs because each and every drug has some side effects. Unsupervised medication can develop such effects that they may even become a bigger source of trouble than arthritis itself.