Arthritis

Rub-on pain reliever can ease arthritis discomfort

Daniel Pendick
Daniel Pendick, Former Executive Editor, Harvard Men's Health Watch

When it comes to relieving the pain of achy joints, many people reach for a pain-relieving pill like aspirin or ibuprofen. There may be a better way. When the source of pain is close to the surface, applying a cream, gel, patch, or spray that contains a pain reliever right where it hurts can ease pain and help avoid some of the body-wide side effects of oral pain relievers. These so-called topical analgesics work best for more superficial joints like the knees, ankles, feet, elbows, and hands. The active ingredient in most topical analgesics is a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) like ibuprofen, naproxen, aspirin, or diclofenac. These medications target inflammation, which contributes to pain, swelling, and stiffness. The advantage of using a topical analgesic is that the medication works locally. Targeting pain more precisely using a medication applied to the skin can help skirt the side effects of oral drugs. This can be a boon for people whose stomachs are sensitive to NSAIDs.

Common painkillers boost risk of repeat heart attack

Howard LeWine, M.D.
Howard LeWine, M.D., Chief Medical Editor, Internet Publishing, Harvard Health Publications

Most people don’t think twice about taking Motrin, Advil, Aleve, or similar over-the-counter painkillers. A new study suggests that heart attack survivors should use these drugs, known as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), as little as possible. A team of Danish researchers found that among heart attack survivors, those who used an NSAID were about 60% more likely to have died during each year of the five-year study than those who didn’t use an NSAID. Of all the NSAIDs, diclofenac (Cataflam, Voltaren, generic) was linked to the largest increases in death or heart attack rates, while naproxen (Naprosyn, Aleve, generic) appeared to carry the lowest risk. The lower risk with naproxen confirms what has been seen in older studies. If you have heart disease and need pain relief, try acetaminophen first. If you need an NSAID, naproxen is probably the best choice for your heart. But whatever you and your doctor decide is best for you, use the lowest dose possible for the shortest period of time.

Increase in heart attack risk after joint surgery low but persistent

Daniel Pendick
Daniel Pendick, Former Executive Editor, Harvard Men's Health Watch

A recent study in the Archives of Internal Medicine indicates that the risk of having a heart attack is up to 31 times higher immediately following joint replacement surgery. Those relative risk numbers could be terrifying for someone who needs to have a knee or hip replaced. The absolute risk numbers offer some reassurance. In the six weeks following surgery, one in 200 people in the study who got a new hip and one in 500 who had a knee replaced suffered a heart attack. One new point the study underscored is that the elevated risk may last longer than previously thought. Though earlier research had suggested a danger zone lasting four to five days after joint replacement—coincidentally, the period in which many people are discharged from the hospital—the elevated heart attack risk may persist for two to six weeks.

Chicken Soup for the Soul and Harvard Health serve up inspiration, information

Julie Silver, M.D.
Julie Silver, M.D., Chief Editor of Books, Harvard Health Publications

A new series of books is bringing readers the kind of inspirational stories that have made Chicken Soup for the Soul books international bestsellers plus with trusted health advice from Harvard Medical School. The combination of stories providing hope, inspiration, and great person-to-person advice plus straight talk and life-changing medical information from Harvard doctors will help readers live healthier, more satisfying lives. Each book focuses on a single topic. The first four will be available beginning May 22, 2012. They are Chicken Soup for the Soul: Boost Your Brain Power! by top neurologist Dr. Marie Pasinski; Chicken Soup for the Soul: Say Goodbye to Back Pain! by leading physical medicine expert Dr. Julie Silver; Chicken Soup for the Soul: Say Goodbye to Stress! by noted psychologist Dr. Jeff Brown; and Chicken Soup for the Soul: Say Hello to a Better Body! by respected internist Dr. Suzanne Koven.

Painkillers pose problems for people with heart disease

Howard LeWine, M.D.
Howard LeWine, M.D., Chief Medical Editor, Internet Publishing, Harvard Health Publications

Millions of people take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin and others), naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn, and others), and celecoxib (Celebrex) to relieve pain and inflammation. During the last few years, researchers have raised concerns that taking these drugs often may be hard on the heart as well. The latest study, published in the July 2011 issue of the American Journal of Medicine, suggests that regular use of NSAIDs poses a special problem for people who already have heart disease, boosting their chances of having a heart attack or stroke. This research doesn’t mean that people with high blood pressure and heart disease should stop taking NSAIDs, especially if they are used to ease pain from a chronic condition like arthritis. But it may make sense to try an alternative first.

Taking the pain out of runner’s knee

Kay Cahill Allison
Kay Cahill Allison, Former Editor, Harvard Health

Patellofemoral pain syndrome, also known as runner’s knee, makes it painful to walk up and down stairs, get out of the car, and, of course, run. It happens when the kneecap doesn’t run smoothly up and down its track—a groove called the trochlea. Although anyone can get patellofemoral pain syndrome, it is more common in women than men—especially in mid-life women who’ve been running for many years. Strengthening the quadriceps (thigh) muscles and stretching the iliotibial band, connective tissue that runs from the knee to the hip, can help, as can cutting back on exercises or movements that put repetitive force on the knees.

Gaining awareness about arthritis and its prevention

Patrick J. Skerrett, Former Executive Editor, Harvard Health

Many Americans are remarkably unaware and uninformed about arthritis, a disease that affects about one of every five U.S. adults. Arthritis runs under the public’s radar because it isn’t a killer like heart disease and cancer. Yet it can take a huge toll on the quality of life through the pain and problems it causes. Arthritis is often viewed as an inevitable part of growing old. But it isn’t—there are many things you can do to keep your joints healthy. If you do have joint pain, a new Special Health Report from Harvard Health Publications called Arthritis: Keeping Your Joints Healthy, can help you manage your condition.

Try exercise to ease arthritis pain, stiffness

Julie Corliss
Julie Corliss, Executive Editor, Harvard Heart Letter

If you have arthritis, exercise can help keep your joints mobile and your muscles strong. Swimming and other water-based exercise are especially good because they’re easy on the joints. Harvard Health editor Julie Corliss discusses ways in which exercise can help you cope with—and even improve the symptoms of—arthritis.

What to do when health problems or medical treatments thwart your love life

Ann MacDonald
Ann MacDonald, Contributor, Harvard Health

Health problems, or treatments for them, sometimes thwart sexual desire and sexual function. There may not be a quick fix for health-related sexual problems, but there are things you can do to enjoy your love life while taking care of the rest of your health.

The safety of painkillers

Peter Wehrwein
Peter Wehrwein, Contributor, Harvard Health

Perhaps as many as one in every 5 American adults will get a prescription for a painkiller this year, and many more will buy over-the-counter medicines without a prescription. These drugs can do wonders—getting rid of pain can seem like a miracle—but sometimes there’s a high price to be paid. Remember the heavily marketed COX-2 inhibitors? Rofecoxib, sold as Vioxx, […]