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Acetaminophen for Osteoarthritis

Examples

Generic Name Brand Name
acetaminophen Tylenol

How It Works

Acetaminophen is an analgesic, which helps relieve pain. (Analgesics do not affect inflammation as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, do.)

Why It Is Used

Doctors use acetaminophen to treat mild to moderate pain caused by osteoarthritis.

If acetaminophen does not relieve pain, or if joint tissue shows signs of inflammation, NSAIDs may be used.

How Well It Works

Regular use of acetaminophen can provide relief of mild to moderate pain caused by osteoarthritis.

Acetaminophen does not appear to work quite as well as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for osteoarthritis. But it is often tried first, because for many people it has less serious side effects than NSAIDs.1

Side Effects

All medicines have side effects. But many people don't feel the side effects, or they are able to deal with them. Ask your pharmacist about the side effects of each medicine you take. Side effects are also listed in the information that comes with your medicine.

Here are some important things to think about:

  • Usually the benefits of the medicine are more important than any minor side effects.
  • Side effects may go away after you take the medicine for a while.
  • If side effects still bother you and you wonder if you should keep taking the medicine, call your doctor. He or she may be able to lower your dose or change your medicine. Do not suddenly quit taking your medicine unless your doctor tells you to.

Call 911 or other emergency services right away if you have:

  • Trouble breathing.
  • Swelling of your face, lips, tongue, or throat.

Call your doctor if you have:

  • Hives.
  • Yellowing of the eyes or skin.
  • Stomach cramps or pain.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Blood in your stools, or you are vomiting blood.

See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)

What To Think About

Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.

Check the labels on all the other nonprescription and prescription medicines you take. Many medicines have acetaminophen. Do not take two or more medicines with acetaminophen in them unless your doctor told you to. Taking too much acetaminophen can be harmful. If you have questions about this, talk to your doctor or pharmacist.

Acetaminophen does not change the process of cartilage breakdown that happens in osteoarthritis.

Taking medicine

Medicine is one of the many tools your doctor has to treat a health problem. Taking medicine as your doctor suggests will improve your health and may prevent future problems. If you don't take your medicines properly, you may be putting your health (and perhaps your life) at risk.

There are many reasons why people have trouble taking their medicine. But in most cases, there is something you can do. For suggestions on how to work around common problems, see the topic Taking Medicines as Prescribed.

Advice for women

If you are pregnant, breast-feeding, or planning to get pregnant, do not use any medicines unless your doctor tells you to. Some medicines can harm your baby. This includes prescription and over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, herbs, and supplements. And make sure that all your doctors know that you are pregnant, breast-feeding, or planning to get pregnant.

Checkups

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Complete the new medication information form (PDF)(What is a PDF document?) to help you understand this medication.

References

Citations

  1. Lozada CJ (2013). Treatment of osteoarthritis. In GS Firestein et al., eds., Kelley's Textbook of Rheumatology, 9th ed., vol. 2, pp. 1646–1659. Philadelphia: Saunders.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Stanford M. Shoor, MD - Rheumatology
Last Revised April 9, 2013

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.

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