What Are the Pros and Cons of NSAIDs for Osteoarthritis?

A. Pasbjerg
A. Pasbjerg
NSAIDs.
NSAIDs.

Taking NSAIDs for osteoarthritis is an option that patients need to consider carefully, as there are both pros and cons to using these drugs. On the positive side, there are a number of over-the-counter varieties readily available, and they can provide effective pain relief, particularly in the short term. There are drawbacks, however, the most significant of which is the potential for serious side effects. Studies have shown that for some patients the relief NSAIDs provide often does not outweigh the possible risks, and other, safer alternatives may be just as effective. As with any form of treatment, it is important to discuss all of these factors and any other concerns with a doctor before using NSAIDs for osteoarthritis.

A picture of a healthy spine and one with osteoarthritis.
A picture of a healthy spine and one with osteoarthritis.

One main advantage of NSAIDs for osteoarthritis is that they can provide effective pain relief. The drugs work to relieve inflammation in affected joints and reduce the pain of the condition. For some patients, they can ease discomfort quickly, particularly if the condition is flaring up. One type may be more effective than another depending on the person, however, so he or she may need to try more than one to find the best option.

A healthy hip and one with osteoarthritis.
A healthy hip and one with osteoarthritis.

There are a number of different potential NSAIDs for osteoarthritis, and while some are only available with a doctor's prescription, several are available over the counter. This makes them a convenient and generally affordable option for patients who need quick relief from pain. Over-the-counter NSAIDs include aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen, which are available under a variety of brand names.

Ibuprofen and other NSAIDs that are sold over the counter may have side effects, particularly when used long term for chronic osteoarthritic pain.
Ibuprofen and other NSAIDs that are sold over the counter may have side effects, particularly when used long term for chronic osteoarthritic pain.

Primary among the cons of taking NSAIDs for osteoarthritis is the potential for significant side effects. The most common side effects are gastrointestinal problems like stomach pain, diarrhea, and ulcers or stomach bleeding, and diarrhea, but they can also cause much more severe problems like liver and kidney issues, heart attack, and stroke. These side effects are much more likely if NSAIDs are used at high doses or for long periods, so they may still be a viable option for short-term relief but not as part of a long-term treatment plan. They are also more common in certain populations, such as people over 60, those who smoke, and people with a history of ulcers and kidney failure, so these patients should use extra care. In all cases, it is important to evaluate if the pain relief NSAIDs provide is significant enough to make the risks worthwhile.

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    • NSAIDs.
      NSAIDs.
    • A picture of a healthy spine and one with osteoarthritis.
      A picture of a healthy spine and one with osteoarthritis.
    • A healthy hip and one with osteoarthritis.
      A healthy hip and one with osteoarthritis.
    • Ibuprofen and other NSAIDs that are sold over the counter may have side effects, particularly when used long term for chronic osteoarthritic pain.
      Ibuprofen and other NSAIDs that are sold over the counter may have side effects, particularly when used long term for chronic osteoarthritic pain.