Arthritis medications: Can I take them only when I need them?

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Arthritis medications: Can I take them only when I need them?

Question

I take a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) daily for arthritis in my hands. I don't like taking so much medication, and I'm wondering if I can cut back and only take medication on days that I have pain.

Ralph
Colorado

Answer

If you are using an over-the-counter medication, such as ibuprofen, you can generally adjust the amount you are taking to match your level of pain. This is especially true if the severity of your pain varies. For example, some people experience a flare of arthritis symptoms after increased physical activity. Using the full recommended dose of a medication for several days should help decrease pain and inflammation. When symptoms improve, you can cut back to one or two tablets every few days. If your symptoms don't recur, you can stop taking the medication and just take it when you need it.

On the other hand, if your arthritis symptoms are more constant, you may find that staying on a set dosage of the medication all the time provides maximum relief of symptoms. This is because nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) must be taken for several days to achieve a consistent and adequate level of medication in your blood. For this reason, taking an NSAID only when you have pain won't be as effective as taking the medication on a regular basis.

If you are taking a prescription arthritis medication, discuss any possible dosage adjustments with your doctor.

Last Updated: 08/04/2005
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