Arthritis Medication Side Effects - What You Should Know

Reacting to Arthritis Medication Side Effects

There are potential side effects with all arthritis medications. Some arthritis medication side effects are apparent (for example, a skin rash) while others may not be as obvious (such as elevated liver enzymes). You should know as much about potential side effects as you do about why you were prescribed the medication.

For more details on arthritis medication side effects, read this excerpt from UpToDate -- a trusted electronic reference used by many physicians and patients looking for in-depth and well-explained medical information.

Then read on so you will have a full understanding of arthritis medication side effects.

Arthritis Medication Side Effects: Details from UpToDate

"Medications are the cornerstone of treatment for active rheumatoid arthritis. The goals of treatment with rheumatoid arthritis medications are to achieve remission and prevent further damage of the joints and loss of function, without causing permanent or unacceptable side effects.

"The type and intensity of rheumatoid arthritis treatment with medication depends upon individual factors and potential drug side effects. In most cases, the dose of a medication is increased until inflammation is suppressed or drug side effects become unacceptable.

"The challenge of using medications is to balance the side effects against the need to control inflammation. All patients with rheumatoid arthritis who use medications need regular medical care and blood tests to monitor for complications."

Are Medication Side Effects Always Serious?

Arthritis medication side effects are not always serious. The side effect can be mild and not require that you stop the medication -- as would be the case with a serious side effect. For example, let's consider NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs).

Initially, an NSAID may cause slight stomach upset when you take the pill. That can often be resolved by taking the pill with a full glass of water or milk, or better yet, eating a small snack or meal.

But that same NSAID is capable of causing severe problems as well. NSAIDs can cause ulcers, gastrointestinal bleeding, and fluid retention,and they have also been linked to an increased risk of heart disease.

Pay close attention to how you feel after taking your NSAID. Be vigilant about noticing any change. Your doctor will do his job by monitoring your blood work.

When Should You Call Your Doctor?

It can be difficult to know which side effects are simply annoyances and which ones could signal something serious. A good general rule is that if you think you're having a side effect from a medication, contact your doctor's office. For potentially life-threatening symptoms, such as difficulty breathing, seek immediate medical attention.

You should report any and all side effects to your doctor so he has them in your medical record -- and so he can offer possible solutions.

The side effect may not be something you have to continue living with.

How Can Medication Side Effects Be Minimized?

To minimize the chance of side effects with any arthritis medication, you should be taking the lowest dose possible that still is effective. You should take the medication for the shortest amount of time possible to reduce the potential for side effects. However, since arthritis is a chronic disease, many of the medications are prescribed for long-term use.

If side effects do occur, there are essentially three options. With your doctor's supervision, you could reduce the dose of the medication, switch to another drug in the same drug class, or as a last resort, stop the drug and consider other treatment options.

Want to learn more?

See UpToDate's topic, "Patient information: Rheumatoid arthritis treatment" for additional in-depth medical information on rheumatoid arthritis treatment.


Maini RN and Venables PJW. "Patient information: Rheumatoid arthritis treatment" UpToDate. Accessed October 31, 2009.

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