Arthritis patients risk health with too many painkillers

Arthritis patients in Britain are risking their health by taking too many painkilling drugs, according to a new survey.

The report found that almost one in five are taking two anti-inflammatories and risk side effects including gastric bleeds, heart attack and stroke.

It shows that 97 per cent of patients with osteoarthritis (OA) have restricted movement  — and more than seven out of ten have much reduced mobility with some hardly able to move.

Those afflicted have trouble with everyday activities such as walking, climbing the stairs and taking part in sports.

The nationwide survey was a collaboration between nanotechnology specialists Pro Bono Bio, the charity Arthritis Research UK and LloydsPharmacy.

In an attempt to relieve their pain, 90 per cent of respondents were taking drug-based medicines, with three quarters taking more than one treatment to manage their condition.

Yet almost half of those with OA reported side effects due to their medication, with almost nine out of ten concerned over such effects.

OA affects nearly nine million people in Britain, and costs the NHS £5.2 billion a year in direct healthcare costs, according to Arthritis Research UK.

This study’s aim was to better understand the impact on patients’ lives and to determine the use of currently available treatments.

It found that doctors and patients struggle to control the pain and stiffness caused by OA, a disease for which there is currently no cure.

Because of the symptoms experienced by patients and the fact many have other medical conditions, management of the disease is a real challenge – both for the patients and their healthcare teams.

A total of 440 people with a joint-pain condition were surveyed – the majority via the Arthritis Research UK website over a four-month period from January to May 2014. LloydsPharmacy aided in the study by surveying colleagues.

There were respondents in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Of those surveyed, all had joint conditions with 61 per cent having a confirmed diagnosis of OA.

They ranged in age from 20 to 90 years, with the vast majority in the over 50s bracket. Almost nine out of ten were female and the knee was the most affected joint.

Of those with OA, 57 per cent were taking a pain pill from the class of medication known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatories or NSAIDs.

These include aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen, celecoxib and diclofenac – some are prescribed, others can be bought over the counter in pharmacies and supermarkets.

The report states: “This class of medicine is well known to cause side effects, especially in patients who have risk factors.

“These risk factors include being elderly, having conditions such as high blood pressure, having ulcers, having had a previous heart attack or taking certain other medications.

“Extremely worrying is the significant number of patients (19 per cent) who report that they are taking two oral NSAIDs at the same time.”

There was a real interest in a new drug-free treatment which has proven effective against pain and stiffness, but none of the issues of NSAIDs.

That treatment, Flexiseq, was launched on the Arthritis Research UK website in December. Ninety nine per cent of respondents said they would like to try it.

Dr John Dickson, GP and a co-founder of the Primary Care Rheumatology Society, said: “I read with interest the findings of this survey as they clearly reflect my experience that many patients continue to live with terrible pain and stiffness, despite trying many available treatments.

“These patients are looking for new options, and the new treatment — Flexiseq — may well be the answer for many of them.

“Flexiseq is a drug-free gel, gives comparable pain relief to the oral NSAIDs and has an excellent safety profile. I am recommending it to my patients, and use it myself on the painful arthritic joints in my hands.”

Dr Liam O’Toole, CEO of Arthritis Research UK, said: “The findings of this survey highlight the debilitating pain that the one in six people with arthritis in the UK are facing every day. Pain is one of the main symptoms of arthritis and musculoskeletal conditions. For some people, the pain is long-lasting and interferes with their daily life, stopping them doing the things they enjoy.

“All of our work is focused on taking the pain away from people who have arthritis so that they remain active, doing the things that they love. Our website has a breadth of information for people living with long-term pain, including different approaches to pain relief, who you can ask for support and self-help tips.”

Michael Earl, of Flexiseq manufacturers Pro Bono Bio, said: “This survey demonstrates the real need that patients and doctors have for effective and safer treatment options.

“Flexiseq, which is drug-free and has been shown to be as effective as a leading pain tablet, celecoxib, is already being used by many patients and we are delighted by the positive feedback we are getting from these users and from healthcare professionals.

Nitin Makadia, pharmacist and pain expert at LloydsPharmacy, said: “The results of the survey show a greater need for support and information around medicine management for those living with osteoarthritis.

“It also demonstrates the crucial role pharmacy can play when it comes to managing multiple medications and understanding the side effects of treatments.

“At LloydsPharmacy we have taken our support for these patients one step further by offering a pain service that gives patients the opportunity to discuss their pain concerns and get advice from a pharmacist about how they can manage their pain, not just with medication but also through lifestyle changes.”

To read the full report, please download Osteoarthritis Pain Report.