Rheumatoid Arthritis

Painkillers and rheumatoid arthritis

A variety of drugs are prescribed for people with rheumatoid arthritis and some of the first are likely to be analgesics (painkillers) together with anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce the swelling and inflammation in the joints. Painkillers help to relieve the pain but do not affect its cause, so other types of drug are prescribed as well. Many different types and strengths of painkillers exist; some need a prescription whilst others can be bought over the counter from a pharmacy.

Participants often found that particular ones worked better than others for them. People reported taking painkillers at different times of the day. This depended on their pain levels so they took them either at regular intervals through the day, just once a day, or as and when they felt they needed them, perhaps occasionally during a flare up.

One woman's pain was so bad that she would count the hours between doses. Other people took them first thing in the morning to help get over their early morning stiffness. Two people said that if they knew they were going to do something strenuous at work or were going to be on their feet all day they would take painkillers beforehand to counteract the pain before it started.

Some people needed painkillers to ease the pain to help them get to sleep at night. One woman tried to do without them but sometimes needed them if the pain was bad. Another said that although she did take them to help her sleep, they didn't last the whole night so she would wake up in the early hours in pain.

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Many people regulated the dose of painkillers they took themselves and they would consult their GP only if they felt they needed stronger ones to control the level of pain. One man described taking them when required but also how he had found other ways to cope with the pain.

Several people described avoiding taking too many tablets and how they had tried to reduce the dose they took and this was because they didn't want to become dependent on them or because they were unsure if they really needed them. One woman didn't like taking co-proxamol but felt she was addicted to it.

Although people tried to keep the amount of painkillers to a minimum and take them as and when needed, one participant talked about an education course she had been on and learnt from a nurse that, if required, it is probably better to take them more regularly. Another woman described how she didn't drink alcohol whilst taking some painkillers.

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One woman accidentally took too many painkillers whilst on holiday.

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Although many people had no side effects from painkillers, some did. They included 'fuzzy head', hallucinations, skin rash (aspirin), sickness, and sweating.

Last reviewed August 2016.

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