Originally created 05/18/99

Drugs could mark arthritis breakthrough



Q:Do the new "super aspirins" help relieve arthritis pain? -- B.E., Evans

A:According to the Mayo Clinic, nearly 40 million Americans have some form of arthritis, and the figure is expected to explode to 60 million arthritis sufferers by 2020.

Often referred to as a "wear-and-tear condition," arthritis is often a complication of the aging process.

Osteoarthritis occurs when cartilage that surrounds bones deteriorates and the bones grind against each other. It is estimated that more than 50 percent of people older than 65 have some form of arthritis. Of those, 75 percent are women.

Anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin and ibuprofen are commonly prescribed to treat such diseases as osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. More than 10 million arthritis sufferers use anti-inflammatory drugs to relieve inflamed joints and tissues and reduce pain.

The medications are also linked to problems with the stomach lining. Bleeding in the stomach and ulcers are common problems for those who take aspirin. These complications are estimated to cause nearly 100,000 hospital stays each year in the United States. Unfortunately, nearly 7,000 people die each year of complications associated with the side effects of anti-inflammatory drugs.

Because of these problems, scientists have developed a substitute treatment. COX-2 inhibitors, or "super aspirins," were developed. COX-2 inhibitors offer relief from arthritis pain while avoiding the stomach problems.

Although they relieve pain in much the same way aspirin does, COX-2 inhibitors are completely different. The term "super aspirins" means that these new drugs are better than aspirin for patients with stomach problems.

COX-2's label name, Celebrex, is new to the market. Although the initial drug trials have been completed, the long-term effects are not yet known. Both COX-2 inhibitors and aspirin are believed to hold the same risks for developing kidney problems.

It is estimated that the COX-2 inhibitors will replace the current anti-inflammatory drugs within five to six years. Additional medical trials are being conducted to filter out problems.

Patients suffering from asthma or cardiovascular disease should not take this medication. Consult your physician if you are interested in taking COX-2 inhibitors for the relief of arthritis inflammation and pain.

Write to Shirley McIntosh at Resource Center on Aging, 2803 Wrightsboro Road, Suite 51, Augusta, GA 30809.