Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs: overused or underused in osteoarthritis?
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Arthritis and musculoskeletal disorders are common. Arthritis currently accounts for 2% to 3% of all cases of disability, and the numbers are rising. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are widely used, with 75 million prescriptions annually in the United States and 25 million in the United Kingdom. The volume of side effects noted, most of which are gastrointestinal and can be serious, imply the overuse of these drugs, especially in relation to the estimated prevalence of osteoarthritis (OA), where pain relief may be considered more important than an anti-inflammatory effect. There are conflicting data about the efficacy of NSAIDs compared with analgesics alone for pain relief. However, the interpretation of data comparing the two drug classes is limited by shortcomings in research methodologies and by difficulties in incorporating the anti-inflammatory effect of NSAIDs into the outcomes. The efficacy of paracetamol for some patients has been underestimated; however, although those with mild disease may find paracetamol adequate, most patients with OA are likely to gain more benefit from NSAIDs.