Arthritis Medications

Arthritis is a debilitating condition that affects the joints of the human body.

The word "arthritis" is derived from the Greek words "arthro" meaning joint and "itis" meaning inflammation. Its simplest meaning is inflammation of the joints.

The bodys normal reaction to any sort of injury or infection is inflammation; it involves swelling at the site of injury, pain and stiffness.

When this pain and stiffness lasts for an elongated period and keeps on recurring, the condition is known as arthritis.

It can cause degeneration of and permanent damage to the affected tissues.

Arthritis normally affects the tissues and cartilages around the bone joints of the body. However, some types of arthritis also affect other body parts including the skin and internal organs.

While there are more than 100 different types of arthritis known to medical science, the condition has been broadly categorized into the following types:


The most common form of arthritis, osteoarthritis happens when the cartilages covering the joints are eroded over age.

The lack of cartilage causes the bones to rub against each other, which leads to pain and inflammation.

While the condition can affect any joint in the body, osteoarthritis is mainly found in the joints of the arms and limbs, especially the weight bearing joints like those of the knees and ankles.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is caused by the body's own immune system attacking itself.

This attack leads to swelling in the joint lining, which slowly spreads to surrounding cartilage and tissue. This is a long term condition that mainly affects the hands, wrists, and knee joints, though there have been instances of rheumatoid arthritis being diagnosed in other joints as well.

Severe expression of rheumatoid arthritis can be found even in the skin, eyes, and nerves.


Gout is a reaction of the body in response to accumulation of a natural waste-product called uric acid.

Normally uric acid is excreted from the body through urine, but when it starts accumulating due to any blockages in the elimination system, it starts forming needle-like crystals in the joints of the body.

These crystals lead to inflammation and pain in the joints, which is commonly described as gout. The big toe, knees and wrist joints are the parts where gout is normally seen.


Lupus is similar to rheumatoid arthritis as it also involves the body's immune system attacking the body.

But while rheumatoid arthritis is mainly seen in joints, the swelling and inflammation due to lupus can affect many different parts including joints, skin, kidney, blood cells, heart, and lungs.

Lupus is a highly chronic form of a connective tissue disease and can severely disturb the lives of patients.

Patients who have been diagnosed with any of the above forms of arthritis are normally put on an intensive treatment regimen as arthritis has the ability to render a patient disabled for life if not treated quickly and effectively.

There are a number of different medications and drugs available for the treatment of arthritis.

These range from highly potent prescription drugs to over-the-counter medications.

Different forms of arthritis call for different medication and dosage regimens and doctors should prescribe these on the basis of their diagnosis of a patient's condition.

The major types of arthritis medications currently available include:

Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)

NSAIDs are the most commonly prescribed and used drugs for the treatment of arthritis.

There are many different NSAIDs available from different pharmaceutical manufacturers.

NSAIDs work by restricting the enzyme cyclooxygenase or COX from working in the body.

This action relieves the pain caused due to inflammation and provides relief to arthritis patients.

Some of the best known NSAID drugs include Ansaid, Arthrotec, Cataflam, Daypro, Ibuprofen, Mobic, and Naproxen.

Along with their beneficial effects, NSAIDs also have certain side effects, the most common of which include abdominal pain, diarrhea, heartburn, and upset stomach.

Long term use of the medications has also been found to cause stomach ulcers and serious complications like bleeding and perforation of the stomach.


Cortico-steroids are commonly referred to as steroids and are powerful anti-inflammatory drugs that can quickly reduce the swelling and pain associated with arthritis.

These can treat almost all kinds of arthritis. Among the more popular and widely prescribed cortico-steroids are drugs such as betamethasone, cortisone, dexamethasone, hydrocortisone, prednisolone, and prednisone.

Just like NSAIDs, cortico-steroids are also known to have many side effects, the biggest being their addictive characteristics.

When taken for an extended period of time, cortico-steroids can cause addiction, so most doctors prefer to inject it directly into the joint or inflamed area.

Over-the-counter Topical Pain Relievers

Over-the-counter topical pain relievers are also commonly called analgesics.

These topical medications work by reducing the pain caused due to arthritis; they do not have any effect on the inflammation.

Pain control is a major part of arthritis treatment and so these medications are used by millions of arthritis patients.

Analgesics such as

  • aspirin,
  • acetaminophen,
  • ibuprofen,
  • and naproxen
are the most widely used over-the-counter topical pain relievers.

One reason for the wide popularity of analgesics is that they are benign medications that seldom have any major side-effects.

The most commonly known adverse effects of these medications are an upset stomach and nausea.

Gout Medications

Gout treatment normally involves a three step approach.

  • The first step is control of pain through the use of analgesics such as Tylenol.
  • This is followed by treatment with NSAIDs, colchicines and corticosteroids to bring down the inflammation.
  • Once the inflammation is under control, drugs are administered to treat the root cause of accumulation of uric acid.
  • There are a number of different drugs used for this including Anturane, Benemid, Colchicine, and Zyloprim.

As the drugs force the removal of uric acid from the body, their most common side effect is excessive urination, which could lead to dehydration and a lack of fluids in the body.

Chemotherapy Drugs

While chemotherapy drugs are primarily used for treatment of cancer, some of these medications are also beneficial for the treatment of inflammation caused by a malfunctioning immune system.

Chemotherapy drugs slow down the reproduction of cells, which in turn can lead to reduction in the inflammation caused by arthritis.

Not all chemotherapy drugs can be used for treatment of arthritis. The most commonly used medications include:

  • Rheumatrax,
  • Imuran,
  • and Cytoxan.

As these drugs restrict cell formation, they can have certain severe side effects including:

  • anemia,
  • low white blood cell count,
  • and low platelet count.

These drugs can also damage the liver and urinary tract, cause hair loss and lead to sterility.

COX-2 Inhibitors

COX-2 inhibitors are a form of NSAIDs and share the same method of working as these drugs.

COX-2 inhibitors are also known as selective inhibitors as these work by selectively inhibiting the action of the cyclooxygenase-2 enzyme, which is mainly responsible for inflammation.

The most commonly prescribed COX-2 inhibitors include Celebrex, Vioxx, and Bextra.

The last two medications have now been taken off the market on account of their side effects.

COX-2 inhibitors share the same side effects as NSAIDs, though these drugs are also known to have severe effects on the heart, and can lead to severe hypertension and even heart failure in some patients.

Biological Response Modifiers (BRMs)

Biological response modifiers or BRMs are substances that change the way in which the body reacts to diseases and infections.

While these are naturally produced substances, medical science has developed these in the laboratory for use as arthritis medications.

While highly potent in treating arthritis, BRMs are also known to have side effects such as flu-like symptoms, weakness, fever, appetite loss, vomiting and diarrhea.

Among the better known BRM drugs are:

  • Enbrel,
  • Humira,
  • Kineret,
  • Orenica,
  • and Remicade.

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