In general, the benefits of NSAIDs for arthritis outweigh the associated risks. NSAIDs reduce inflammation and swelling and also relieve mild to moderate pain. The drugs are inexpensive, relatively safe and widely available for treating moderate, short-term arthritis pain without a doctor's prescription. For severe, chronic pain and inflammation, however, arthritis patients may require a stronger dosage under the advice and dispensation of a medical professional.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, were first developed in the late 1800s with the advent of aspirin in tablet form. NSAIDs are some of the most commonly distributed drugs, known for reducing inflammation, relieving pain, and lowering fever with few adverse reactions. Arthritis and osteoarthritis sufferers especially benefit from NSAID therapy, as the medications relieve the pain and minor inflammation associated with these conditions while incurring few side effects with moderate use.
The most common NSAID drugs work by blocking the formation of cyclooxygenase (COX), an enzyme that produces prostaglandins in the body. When the joints become injured or inflamed as in arthritis, prostaglandins are responsible for the swelling and heightened pain sensations. Common over-the-counter NSAIDs for arthritis include aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen and ketoprofen. One common side effect in sensitive patients with frequent use is stomach upset or stomach bleeding, as the same COX enzyme that reduces inflammation also inhibits the protective formation of stomach mucus.
Another type of NSAIDs for arthritis are called COX-2 inhibitors, named for their ability to inhibit the formation of cyclooxygenase without causing the gastrointestinal problems associated with COX-1 NSAIDs. COX-2 inhibitors are available only through a doctor's prescription and are usually prescribed only after traditional NSAIDs for arthritis have proven ineffective. These NSAIDs affect the circulatory system, increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke with high doses or in sensitive patients. For this reason, the dosage is usually measured and monitored under the supervision of a doctor.
For most arthritis sufferers, NSAIDs are both safe and effective medications for relieving inflammation and reducing mild to moderate pain. The side effects are generally low for short-term, moderate use and provide sufficient relief for arthritic flareups and temporary discomfort. Over-the-counter NSAIDs may not be effective for patients suffering from severe or chronic arthritis though. In such a case, a medical professional's advice becomes necessary.