Arthritis is an inflammation of the joints which can be caused by a wide variety of things. It is one of the leading causes of mobility issues for people over 50, and it is widespread across all cultures and classes. Arthritis is also ancient: evidence of this condition has even been uncovered in dinosaurs, suggesting that this joint condition is natural, caused simply by wear and tear on the joints as someone (or some creature) ages.
The major feature of arthritis is pain, which can sometimes be severe. The condition may also be accompanied by swelling, tenderness, clubbing around the joint, and stiffness. Sufferers often have trouble moving joints affected by the condition, making it hard for them to move or to use their hands. As many people who have been around the elderly have noted, arthritis often strikes the hands, because the joints in the hands are heavily used throughout one's life, and very old people sometimes have gnarled, clubbed fingers as a result of repeated bouts with it.
One of the most common causes of this condition is degeneration, which can be caused by disease or the natural aging process. Other causes include infection and trauma, especially repeated trauma, and some people develop arthritis due to metabolic changes. It can also flare up in concert with another disease; for example, gout is often linked with arthritis, because the uric acid crystals associated with gout can end up in any joint, not just the big toe.
Some common forms include osteoarthritis, caused by degenerative disease; inflammatory arthritis, caused by inflammation around the joint; septic arthritis, caused by bacterial infection either at the joint or somewhere else in the body; juvenile arthritis, which appears in children and young adults; and rheumatoid arthritis, caused by immune system attacks to the lining of the joints.
There is no cure for this condition, but steps can be taken to treat the symptoms and the underlying problems which may cause it. Various exercises can be used to gently stretch and strengthen the joints, as recommended by a physical therapist, and some medications may be used to bring down the inflammation and treat the pain. If the arthritis is being caused by an underlying health problem, treatment for that condition may help to resolve it; many people also use medicated soaks, massage, and other complementary treatments to deal with the pain and swelling.
What are the Different Types of Arthritis Medications?
Managing arthritis pain can become a full time job. Pain and stiffness caused by joint inflammation can make even small chores such as dressing difficult. It is no wonder, then, that pharmaceutical companies devote significant amounts of time and money to researching new arthritis drugs. Commonly used arthritis medications include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs), biologic response modifiers (BRMs), and corticosteroids. In addition to these medications, which actually treat the diseases, topical and oral analgesics help relieve the symptoms.
Corticosteroids such as prednisone and cortisone were the forerunners of modern arthritis medications. Taken orally or injected directly into painful, inflamed joints, they work by reducing the inflammation that causes the pain and damage. They also suppress the overactive immune system, which is the root cause of arthritis and all autoimmune diseases. Although they have been around for years, corticosteroids are still used in conjunction with newer arthritis medications.
NSAIDs are available over the counter in the form of aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen sodium. Prescription NSAIDs include Celebrex, Motrin, Anaprox, Feldene and Clinoril. These medications reduce inflammation and pain by blocking certain enzymes and proteins produced by the body. Unfortunately, they can cause skin rashes and stomach problems such as heartburn and ulcers.
Though NSAIDs are the first-line arthritis treatment, they do not always halt the joint destruction and deformity brought about by aggressive diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis. In these instances, doctors may prescribe DMARDs such as Trexall and Plaquenil. These arthritis medications work to stop the immune system’s attack on the joints. While they are slow acting and may take months to become effective, these arthritis drugs can bring about remission of the disease.
BRMs are frequently used in conjunction with other DMARDs. They are tumor necrosis factor (TNF) blockers that begin to bring relief within a week or two after treatment begins, which is well before the standard DMARDs kick in. Evidence indicates that the biologics also help stop the progress of the diseases for which they are prescribed. Enbrel, Remicade and Humira are BRMs often prescribed for use with other arthritis medications.
Oral and topical analgesics help manage arthritis pain, though they do nothing to reduce inflammation. Tylenol and prescription Ultram, Percocet and Vicodin are oral pain relievers used by arthritis sufferers. Over the counter topical creams or gels, such as those that contain menthol or capsaicin, can interrupt pain signals from inflamed joints and bring about a temporary respite.
It is unlikely that successful arthritis treatment will consist of only one type of medication. Typically, it takes a combination of drugs managed by a doctor who can adjust the combinations and dosages as needed. Sometimes real relief comes only through trial and error to find a complement of medications that not only ease pain but treat its cause as well.