Osteoarthritis Symptoms and Treatment

Jan 6, 2015
Specialist pharmacists in the Express Scripts Therapeutic Resource Center® help patients understand and manage the symptoms and effects of osteoarthritis.
Tags
  • Inflammatory Conditions
  • Pain

Osteoarthritis (OA) – also called “wear and tear” arthritis – affects about 27 million adults in the United States.

The condition occurs primarily from the cartilage in joints breaking down over time as a result of an injury, repetitive motion or excessive weight. In some instances, it can just be a result of aging. 

Osteoarthritis is most commonly exhibited in the knees, hips, hands, fingers and the spine. Occasionally, it can affect other areas such as wrists, elbows, shoulders or ankles, usually due to injury in that specific area or joint. OA presents slowly and for many, the first signs are aching joints after exercise or physical work.

Specialist pharmacists in the Express Scripts Therapeutic Resource Center® help patients understand and manage the symptoms and effects of OA.

Factors that affect the chances for developing OA include:

  • Age and gender: Before age of 45, it affects more men, but after age 45 it is more common in women
  • Obesity: The more weight the joints are bearing, the more likelihood of developing OA
  • Joint alignment: OA affects those with a bowleg, dislocated hips or double jointed people
  • Heredity: Research has indicated a genetic connection to the development of cartilage in the body

As the disease progresses, patients may experience: 

  • Pain in the joint
  • Swelling or tenderness in the joint
  • Stiffness after being inactive for a time, such as sitting or sleeping
  • Crunching sound or feeling of bone rubbing on bone when the joint is used

However, these symptoms do not necessarily mean someone has OA. It is important to consult a physician for an accurate diagnosis and to develop a treatment plan.

Osteoarthritis Treatment

The first line of treatment is often over the counter (OTC) medicines such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen and topical creams, rubs or sprays.

Proper exercise, weight loss, massage therapy and heat therapy can help mitigate the symptoms of OA.

However, as the disease progresses, the dose may need to be increased to a level that poses a risk to the liver or kidneys. Many patients with OA can manage the condition with just oral medications but some may need to move to long-acting specialty medications that are directly injected into the joint.

Medication therapy for OA can include:

  • Narcotic painkillers (usually for limited time only)
  • Corticosteroids (such as prednisone and also for a limited time only)
  • Hyaluronic Acid Substitutes, which are injected into the affected joint to increase the joint’s lubrication
  • Disease Modifying Anti-Rheumatic Drugs (DMARDS)
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