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One of the UK's biggest arthritis charities, Arthritis Research UK, has recently published the findings of two studies focusing upon the use, or non-use, of medications to manage the effects of arthritis - particularly mobility issues and associated pain. One study looked at adherence to prescription medications often prescribed for rheumatoid arthritis sufferers known as anti-TNF medication which reduces inflammation, while the other delved into the use of over-the-counter (OTC) medications by arthritis sufferers. The findings suggest that many Brits are risking their health by taking high doses of OTC medicines, and shunning prescribed treatments.

Arthritis Research UK reports that an estimated 27 percent of arthritis sufferers fail to take prescription medications as prescribed. Not only does the charity argue that non-adherence to advice regarding correct medicine dosing is costing the NHS thousands of pounds, but by not taking necessary medications, many are sabotaging their chances of improvement. Dr Kimme Hyrich of the University of Manchester has a particular interest in rheumatoid arthritis and its methods of treatment, and was instrumental in the conduction of this latest study. Hyrich claims that "If patients do not take their medication as prescribed it is likely to have a significant effect on whether they respond to therapy and could mean that their condition deteriorates more quickly affecting their quality of life".

One aspect that the study failed to conclude was whether non-adherence to medical advice in these circumstances was primarily due to forgetfulness and absentmindedness, or whether arthritis sufferers were purposefully choosing not to take anti-TNF medications. If the act is intended, the question is why. There have been reports that anti-TNF medication could increase the risk of skin cancer, but research tends to indicate that this isn't true. While those suffering with rheumatoid arthritis have been found to be at greater risk of developing skin cancer, anti-TNF medications have little to no effect on the increase in basal cell carcinoma (growths in the skin's basal cells) or on the increase in squamous cell carcinoma (growths in the skin's squamous cells). This has led doctors to believe that the condition itself heightens the risk, not the medicines.

 

Over The Counter Arthritis Drugs
20 percent of those questioned reported taking two OTC medicines simultaneously

 

The research undertaken indicated very interesting findings - that while many are refusing (or forgetting) to take prescription medications, the use of OTC medicines amongst arthritis sufferers is through the roof, with aspirin and ibuprofen being the most popular choices. Worryingly, nearly 20 percent of those questioned reported taking two OTC medicines simultaneously to help manage the adverse effects of arthritis. While the use of aspirin can be beneficial in some cases, it can be detrimental in others, especially in high doses and in cases of long term use. Research shows that even low doses can double the risk of gastrointestinal bleeding, which is a major cause of death. Upper gastrointestinal bleeding is thought to affect around 100 in 100,000 adults, and lower bleeding 30 in 100,000.

A common interpretation of the results of these two recent studies is that medication use is related to level of pain, with around 97 percent of osteoarthritis sufferers experiencing severe pain when moving, contributing to a lack of mobility and a significantly reduced quality of life. The fact that so many are opting to risk their health by taking OTC medications highlights the intensity of the pain, the adverse effects on lifestyle, and demonstrates the increasing need for easier access to, and awareness of, alternative methods of coping, of pain management, and of mobility ease. One method that has been consistently proven to be of use to arthritis sufferers is the use of mobility aids, both in and out of the home. Stairlifts, wheelchairs, grab rails, and hoists can all allow those with restricted mobility to lead a more normal life without the risk of pain aggravation.

Video explaining Arthritis (video source: Everyday Health)

Looking at alternative therapies, this is something that arthritis sufferers may wish to try in an attempt to lower OTC pain relief dosage. The official word of alternative medicine as a treatment and management method for arthritis is that it does not provide any beneficial effects, but is also not believed to worsen the condition, or contribute to any associated risks. However, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) claims that many arthritis sufferers who partake in alternative therapies do report significant levels of success. Whether the effects are physical or merely psychological doesn't particularly matter in this instance - if a person can lead a more normal lifestyle without the restrictions caused by intense levels of pain or by limited mobility, then a treatment can be called a success.

Meditation is something that may sound like a bit of hocus pocus, but it has long been thought to be associated with pain management. One study conducted back in 1985 found that meditation not only helped to reduce chronic pain, but also lowered the number of OTC pain relief medications taken in order to manage this pain. Similarly, the gentle actions of tai chi can improve joint movements and mobility, yoga is shown to reduce swelling in the joints, and ingestion of higher levels of fish oil, found in fish such as salmon and tuna, can relieve debilitating stiffness. While complementary therapies are not intended to replace the use of medications, a greater awareness of more natural treatments, and of the availability of mobility aids across the UK, may help to reduce the number of patients self medicating with OTC analgesics for pain relief.

There are an estimated 400,000 people in the UK suffering with rheumatoid arthritis, and the NHS reports that more than one million people each year see their GP for issues relating to osteoarthritis. A normal coping method for pain caused by arthritis is the use of OTC painkillers, and is currently recommended by the UK's top arthritis charity Arthritis Research UK. However, as these analgesics are so readily available, there is a common belief that they are safe to use in higher-than-stated doses, alongside other medications, and for long term use. The published results of the new studies, seen in the Rheumatology journal, aim to demonstrate how the ongoing use of aspirin and ibuprofen, and the non-adherence to advice regarding prescribed medicines, can prevent sufferers from seeing the full effects of the treatments available.

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