Harvard Women's Health Watch

By the way, doctor: Are NSAIDs available in a patch?

Q. I understand that NSAID patches are used in Europe to treat some kinds of arthritis. Are they available in the United States?

A. Several topical nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are available without prescription in Europe. They're used to treat acute and chronic pain from strains, sprains, and sports injuries, as well as conditions such as osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Some of these topical NSAIDs have been shown to be effective and to cause less heartburn and other gastrointestinal symptoms than the same drugs taken by mouth.

Topical NSAIDs have some obvious advantages, especially for localized muscle, tendon, or joint pain. The medication is concentrated in the tissue where it is applied, and this reduces the risk of gastrointestinal side effects, at least in the short term (one to two weeks of daily use). Skin irritation also seems to be uncommon. However, the long-term effects still need to be explored. Regular long-term use may raise levels of the drug in the bloodstream and cause gastrointestinal symptoms. For now, NSAID patches are designed for local pain relief, not systemic treatment.

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