Date: October 1st, 2003
If you have osteoarthritis, your least expensive option for treatment might also be the most effective.
You already know that the cost of pain management can be quite expensive, especially as it adds up over years of keeping this chronic condition under control so you can enjoy your life. That's why medical organizations leading the fight against arthritis have issued guidelines for managing pain that emphasize trying cheaper, simpler remedies first.
The American College of Rheumatology and the American Pain Society both have reviewed what science currently has to say on the subject and have come up with their own sets of guidelines for managing arthritis pain. Following up on their findings, researchers at Harvard Medical School, Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital, studied the cost-effectiveness of different arthritis management programs.
The findings of all three groups indicate that people with mild to moderate arthritis pain may be able to get just as much pain relief from over-the-counter medications as they could from more expensive prescriptions, often with the added benefit of fewer side effects.
It is important that osteoarthritis sufferers initiate an ongoing conversation with their doctors about their osteoarthritis. Ask about all of your options, stressing your desire to find the most cost-effective treatment that works for you. Also ask about tools for fighting arthritis that don't involve medication at all. The guidelines suggest:
- Exercising regularly, including a combination of aerobic exercise, strength training, and range-of-motion exercises.
- Maintaining a healthy weight.
- Trying physical and occupational therapy.
- Starting with over-the-counter medications to manage the pain. Acetaminophen was deemed the most cost-effective initial treatment. People need to turn to the more aggressive treatments only when they are not responding well to the others.
Because talking with their doctors may be difficult for some patients, the Alliance for Aging Research has developed a "how-to" guide for opening the dialogue. The guide suggests explaining the source, type, and severity of the pain, describing when it hurts worst, what aggravates it the most, and how it affects your everyday activities, such as exercise or even sleeping. Tell your doctor what medications you're currently taking, and what has and has not worked for you in the past. Then ask what options are available to you, being sure to get information about side effects, cost, and safety.
The impact of osteoarthritis
Osteoarthritis is a pervasive disease that affects more than 20 million Americans, most of them over 45. It is the leading cause of disability in older people and costs the American economy about $124.8 billion annually. This figure includes medical expenses and lost productivity. Because the older population is growing rapidly, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention projects that osteoarthritis will affect almost 60 million people by 2020.
Each of these people feels the impact of the disease on their daily lives as they struggle to do what others take for granted, such as working, doing housework, or enjoying leisure activities. It affects hands and weight-bearing joints such as knees, hips, feet, and back. But coupled with the expense of treatment, osteoarthritis is a disease that causes its share of headaches as well.
In a survey of 1,000 Americans aged 18 and over, the Alliance found that almost nine in ten would worry about the long-term costs of treating arthritis if they had the illness. The survey also found that, despite recommendations to the contrary by leading medical organizations, two-thirds of Americans thought that prescription drugs were the recommended way to manage arthritis pain.
One encouraging finding of the survey was that three-fourths of consumers said they would be willing to talk with their doctors about appropriate and cost-effective treatment, especially if they first had information on which to base the discussion.
To order our "how-to" guide for talking with your physician, please call 202-293-2856.