For the 50 million American adults currently suffering from arthritis, symptom management is the name of the game. Although it's the leading cause of disability in the U.S., and the second most frequently reported chronic condition, there are currently no cures for the family of musculoskeletal disorders known as arthritis, according to the Arthritis Foundation. Therefore, arthritis treatment focuses on relieving symptoms and improving joint function.
The most common forms of arthritis include osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, gout and fibromyalgia.
Traditionally, the common signs and symptoms of arthritis (literally meaning "joint inflammation") may include joint pain, stiffness, swelling, redness and a decreased range of motion. There are numerous types of arthritis - more than 100 in all - and therefore many treatments, including prescription and over-the-counter medications, physical therapy, lifestyle and home remedies, surgery and alternative medicine. Many arthritis sufferers will benefit from some combination of these options.
One of the most commonly used arthritis medications is a category called NSAIDs, or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, which reduce both pain and inflammation. Popular over-the-counter NSAIDs include naproxen sodium, as well as ibuprofen, both of which are available under a wide variety of retail "store-brand" labels.
"Pain and swelling have a serious impact on quality of life for many arthritis patients," says Dr. John Tower, president and medical director of Arthritis Physicians LLC in Rochester Hills, Mich. "In combination with other therapies, NSAIDs like naproxen sodium and arthritis pain-relieving topical ointments can provide some symptomatic relief, and therefore can be an important part of a patient's treatment plan."
"For patients prescribed an NSAID by their physician, I would encourage them to purchase store-brand naproxen sodium or ibuprofen sold at leading retailers and pharmacies," Tower continues. "These products are regulated by the FDA and use the same active ingredients, but cost significantly less than the brand names."
Allegan, Mich.-based Perrigo is the largest manufacturer of over-the-counter medications found under store-brand labels at leading retailers, grocers and pharmacies. Perrigo offers consumers a variety of affordable store-brand NSAID choices, like naproxen sodium in caplet, tablet and liquid gel form, which compare with the active ingredients in brand names.
In addition to drugs for combating pain relief and inflammation, many arthritis patients find relief with physical therapy, lifestyle and home remedies and even alternative medicine.
"Arthritis patients need to work closely with their primary care physicians or rheumatologist to determine which combination of treatment options is best for them," says Tower, who has been a practicing board certified rheumatologist for 21 years. "Appropriate management of symptoms can help people with arthritis to decrease pain, improve function and stay productive."
Physical therapy and regular exercise help to keep joints flexible and strengthen muscle surrounding joints, which can result in improved range of motion for arthritis sufferers. Additionally, home remedies, such as hot and cold therapy, may help relieve arthritis pain, while use of assistive devices, such as a cane or walker, can help protect joints and improve a patient's ability to perform daily tasks.
Alternative medicine, such as acupuncture, may offer some promise as a remedy for reducing symptoms of arthritis, but patients should bear in mind that there is still little reliable evidence to support the use of such treatments in managing arthritis.
"Arthritis is a complex disorder with many causes and no cure, but there are effective treatments to manage the symptoms," says Tower. "Symptom management looks different for every patient, so arthritis sufferers should consider all of the options in partnership with their physician."