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Alternatives for Arthritis vs. NSAID Disasters

Millions of people take celecoxib, diclofenac, ibuprofen, meloxicam or naproxen for arthritis. Are there side effects? Are there alternatives for arthritis?

Do you ever experience a twinge in your knee, shoulder, hip or hand? Tens of millions of people suffer with osteoarthritis (OA). Many of them use over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen or naproxen to ease stiffness and reduce discomfort. Some people insist that they cannot function without a daily dose of NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). They do not believe they will ever suffer side effects. People in pain may not bother to read the cautions or instructions on the label of OTC analgesics. After all, the FDA approved these drugs for sale without a prescription. They must be safe, right? One word answer: NO! Are there alternatives for arthritis that don’t carry the dangers of NSAIDs?

NSAID Lovers:

Many visitors to this website insist that NSAIDs are the only thing keep them going.

Carl is a physician in Charlottesville, VA:

“I am a physician in practice for 35 years. I take 400 of ibuprofen every morning for my mild low back pain. I am otherwise healthy. 400 mg is a modest dose. I have been doing it for a decade (no GI problems).

“Contrary to the recently published evidence on NSAIDs in back pain, it helps a little bit (which is all I really want). I am sure that that getting up and moving is what really helps. I occasionally (every 1-4 wks) take another 200 or 400 mg for different aches or pain (after running 10 miles). If I take more, I notice that nicked skins bleeds a little longer.”

Michelle in Marietta, GA loves ibuprofen:

“I’ve been using 800 Motrin for as long as it’s been available. I remember seeing a Mayo Clinic TV Special and they used it as a first try against pain. It was their go to pain reliever. It ALWAYS helps my pain.”

A tennis player relies on “vitamin I”:

“My tennis partner is very competitive. He goes all in on every shot and beats up his body relentlessly to win every point. Then he suffers. His knees are in bad shape, he has tennis elbow and he frequently starts limping before the end of a match.

“Lately he has started taking big doses of ibuprofen an hour before we play. He calls it his ‘vitamin I.'”

Are NSAIDs a Deal with the Devil?

Many people can take NSAIDs for a few days or even a week or two without getting into trouble. But individuals with osteoarthritis deal with inflammation and chronic pain that lasts for months and years. There are serious problems associated with regular use of NSAIDs (whether they are OTC like ibuprofen and naproxen or prescription like celecoxib, diclofenac or meloxicam).

These drugs can cause potentially serious side effects. Most people are aware of problems like heartburn, stomach pain and even bleeding ulcers. Other adverse reactions include high blood pressure, heart attacks and strokes. Then there is fluid retention, kidney and liver damage, irregular heart rhythms (AFib), heart failure, cardiac arrest and blood disorders. Toxic skin rashes can also occur. These hazards seem abstract and irrelevant to most people. After all, OTC drugs are supposed to be super safe.

The Food and Drug Administration warns health professionals about prescription NSAIDs:

  • “The risk of heart attack or stroke can occur as early as the first weeks of using an NSAID. The risk may increase with longer use of the NSAID.
  • “The risk appears greater at higher doses…
  • “NSAIDs can increase the risk of heart attack or stroke in patients with or without heart disease or risk factors for heart disease…
  • “There is an increased risk of heart failure with NSAID use.”

Adverse NSAID Reactions Reported by Readers:

Because most people assume adverse reactions would never happen to them, here are just a few of the reports we have received from visitors to this website:

Walt in Colorado shared this skin story:

“I took NSAIDs for several years due to chronic low back pain. Later in that period of time I started to develop skin lesions on my face. These were absolutely horrible, everything from bleeding pimple-like sores to open ulcers that would not heal.

“I went to about five different dermatologists, plastic surgeons and GP’s during that time. All were mystified. Yes, I filled out my history accurately but no one drew a connection between NSAID use and skin lesions.

“Then one day I did a search which triggered the association. Do your own search: ‘NSAIDS and skin lesions.’ It’s right there, although a rash is more commonly mentioned than lesions. Most people with this issue get them on their hands and arms, but I got them on my face.”

“Ten days after withdrawing from NSAID use entirely, my skin had cleared. The one GP I ultimately talked to about this afterwards confirmed the diagnosis and noted that he had seen this in the literature but forgotten about it.”

H. in Nottinghamshire, UK, reported kidney toxicity with NSAIDs:

“My brother took diclofenac for 6 months. Previously he had a full check up, including kidneys. They were fine. His doctor prescribed the drug with no advice. There was no warning relating to kidneys on the paperwork that came with the drug. After 6 months of diclofenac his kidney function had been reduced to 25%.”

Bob in Chapel Hill, NC, wrote:

“I had to stop regular use of naproxen because of kidney damage. After 40 years of practice in orthopedic surgery I had to stop what I thought was ‘Safe'”!

Barb in Idaho has a tragic story:

“I will always believe ibuprofen killed my husband. He took an ibuprofen before doing some work in the back yard. He had complained about a backache and was found deceased in the back yard, later that day.”

When someone dies after taking a medication we have heard this response: “He was old and sick and would have died anyway.” Most people do not make a connection between a medication and an unexpected death. Go back and read the FDA’s warning to physicians about NSAIDs.

Mary shared this story about her mother and her mother-in-law:

“Both my mother-in law and my mother almost died from ibuprofen. I told the ambulance drivers I thought my mom was bleeding internally. She was, and almost died.”

Leslie in Chicago recognizes the double bind she is in:

“I suffer from arthritis pain that makes it hard for me to breathe some days. NSAIDs work, but I’m definitely anxious about what I’m doing to my liver and kidneys and the risks of bleeding ulcers or cardiac problems.”

The FDA’s Double Standard:

If a dietary supplement or herb caused any of the side effects listed for NSAIDs, the FDA and the media would be up in arms. Imagine if there were data demonstrating that curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, were discovered to cause high blood pressure, atrial fibrillation and heart attacks. The FDA would demand it be banned immediately. Obviously, there is a double standard when it comes to NSAIDs.

Alternatives for Arthritis: Finding Safer Options:

What can people do when they face a challenging trade off between pain relief on the one hand and side effects like bleeding ulcers or kidney damage on the other? That is the reason we wrote Alternatives for Arthritis.

You will learn about topical NSAIDs such as Pennsaid or Voltaren Gel. Are they safer than oral NSAIDs?

You will also learn about:

  • Food Remedies for Arthritis (there are many anti-inflammatory foods)
  • The Gin-Raisin Remedy
  • Certo and Grape Juice
  • Knox Gelatine
  • Vinegar and Juice
  • Pineapple, aka Bromelain
  • Ashwagandha
  • Boswellia
  • Turmeric aka Curcumin
  • Ginger
  • Stinging Nettle
  • Acupuncture
  • MSM & SAMe

Here is what C.J. in Danville, VA has to say about this electronic version of Alternatives for Arthritis:

“Why isn’t your Guide to Alternatives for Arthritis required reading for all medical students and adults everywhere? There is more common sense in these 119 pages than I’ve found anywhere else.

“Just finished reading it and am blown away at the concise collection of data available of a comparison of drugs to nutritional supplements in alleviating the suffering of the largest segment of society, those over age 50, from arthritis. It all leads back to your first book explaining the growth of the drug industry and how the FDA is kept in check by it.

“Well done, good and faithful servants. You offer a forum for the voices of medical pros that do not sleep with the drug manufacturers. Sorry for the bluntness, but that’s just the fact.”

We appreciate C.J.’s kind words. We are proud of our eGuide to Alternatives for Arthritis

We welcome your comments below. What do you do for stiff fingers and sore joints? Have you found any remedies that work well without side effects. We would love to hear from you.

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.”.
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