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Painkillers and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for rheumatoid arthritis

Painkillers for rheumatoid arthritis

Painkillers alone aren’t enough to treat rheumatoid arthritis, but they’re useful for topping up the pain-relieving effects of other, more specific drugs. Paracetamol is most often used. You may take it by itself, alongside other tablets or as a compound analgesic (e.g. co-codamol) in which it’s added to codeine. Stronger painkillers such as tramadol are also available.

A common side-effect of painkillers that contain codeine is constipation, which can occasionally be severe. 

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for rheumatoid arthritis

NSAIDs reduce pain and swelling, and they start working within a few hours. The effect of some will only last a few hours but others are effective all day. Your doctor will help you to find the preparation and dose that are right for you. About 20 different NSAIDs are available including ibuprofen, diclofenac and naproxen. 

NSAIDs are usually taken as tablets or capsules and you should take them with a glass of water, with or shortly after food. You can also get NSAID creams and gels that can be applied directly to the painful area, or pessaries which are inserted into the back passage.

Like all drugs, NSAIDs can sometimes have side-effects. Your doctor may prescribe a proton pump inhibitor (PPI) alongside the NSAID, which will help to protect your stomach, and will try to keep the NSAID as low as possible while still controlling your symptoms. NSAIDS also carry a small incresed risk of heart attacks and strokes, so your doctor will be cautious about prescribing NSAIDs if you smoke, have diabetes, or if you have high blood pressure or high cholesterol.

For more information, go to www.arthritisresearchuk.org.
Arthritis Research UK fund research into the cause, treatment and cure of arthritis. You can support Arthritis Research UK by volunteering, donating or visiting our shops.