Refer to rheumatology services for further advice regarding the assessment and management of patients with inflammatory arthritis and in cases where there are diagnostic difficulties. This should be done as soon as possible after presentation.
This section does not address the management of septic arthritis. All cases of suspected septic arthritis should be referred to rheumatology or orthopaedics depending on local protocol.
A. Pain control
1. Non-opioid and weak opioid analgesics
Paracetamol oral 1g 4–6 hourly (maximum 4g in 24 hours)
- Paracetamol is as effective as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) in many patients with osteoarthritis. Consider dose reduction of paracetamol in patients with low body weight (≤50kg), renal / hepatic impairment or glutathione deficiency (chronic malnourishment, chronic alcoholism) to 15mg/kg/dose up to four times daily (max 60mg/kg/day). An example is: dose reducing to paracetamol oral 500mg four times daily. N.B. Patients with chronic liver failure may require a further dose adjustment (7.5mg/kg/dose, max 30mg/kg/day)
- If response is inadequate to simple analgesia, NSAIDs may be tried but should be stopped if ineffective.
(Also see 'Oral non-steroidal anti-inflammatory guidelines' on NHSGGC StaffNet / clinical info / clinical guidelines directory, then search in 'musculoskeletal and joint diseases' section.)
- Ibuprofen oral 400–600mg three times daily after food or
- Naproxen oral 250–500mg twice daily after food
NSAIDs are associated with risk of significant toxicity. Brief cautions and contraindications which should be noted (see NHSGGC oral non-steroidal anti-inflammatory guidelines for further prescribing notes) include:
- Assess each patient's individual risk factors, including any history of cardiovascular and gastrointestinal (GI) illness before prescribing. Avoid or minimise use of NSAIDs in patients with ischaemic heart disease and hypertension.
- Always use the lowest possible dose of NSAID for the shortest possible duration.
- Avoid combinations of NSAIDs and, where possible, concomitant use of NSAIDs and nephrotoxic drugs.
- Use with caution in mild renal impairment and hepatic impairment
- NSAIDs are contraindicated in moderate to severe renal failure, severe cardiac failure, severe hepatic failure and active peptic ulcer disease.
- Consider gastroprotection in those patients at increased GI risk (see table 1 below). Remember patients remain at risk of perforation and bleeds despite gastroprotection.
- Avoid, if possible, the co-administration of low dose aspirin with NSAIDs due to increased GI risk. Non-selective NSAIDs may also antagonise the antiplatelet effects of low dose aspirin.
|Table 1 – People at high risk of serious NSAID induced GI adverse effects
- Age ≥65 years
- History of gastroduodenal ulcer, perforation or GI bleeding.
- Concomitant use of medication known to increase risk of upper GI adverse events e.g. aspirin, anticoagulants, corticosteroids, selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors.
- Serious co-morbidity e.g. cardiovascular disease, renal or hepatic impairment, diabetes, hypertension.
- Requirement for prolonged duration of NSAID use.
- High dose NSAID use (ibuprofen 2400mg per day or naproxen 1g per day).
- Proton pump inhibitors e.g.:
- Omeprazole oral 20mg each day or
- Lansoprazole oral 15–30mg each day.
- Gastroprotection is only required for the duration of the NSAID course.
COX-2 selective NSAIDs (Coxibs)
- Celecoxib oral 100mg twice daily or
- Etodolac oral 600mg daily (in 1–2 divided doses).
Coxibs are associated with less GI toxicity than NSAIDs but with increased cardiovascular risk. The following should be noted:
- Coxibs should only be prescribed for patients with high risk of GI toxicity and low cardiac risk.
- Coxibs should not be prescribed for patients taking concomitant aspirin.
- For patients requiring a proton pump inhibitor, a traditional NSAID should be used in preference to a Coxib.
B. Disease Modifying Anti-Rheumatic Drugs (DMARDs) and immunosuppressant therapies
Many patients with inflammatory arthritides or connective tissue diseases will be receiving one or more DMARDs or immunosuppressants including biologic agents such as tumour necrosis factor alpha (TNFα) inhibitors. These medicines are usually initiated on the advice of rheumatology.
- Methotrexate (once weekly preparation, orally or subcutaneously)
- Sulfasalazine EC
Guidelines on DMARD monitoring (BSR / BHPR) are available on the British Society for Rheumatology website.
- Etanercept (SC, once or twice weekly)
- Adalimumab (SC, once a fortnight)
- Infliximab (IV, given in the Day Unit setting)
- Rituximab (IV, given in the Day Unit setting)
- *Tocilizumab (IV/SC, given in the Day Unit setting)
- Abatacept (IV/SC, given in the Day Unit setting)
- Certolizumab Pegol (SC, once a fortnight)
- Golimumab (SC, once a month)
*N.B. Tocilizumab suppresses CRP and ESR therefore these markers are not reliable to measure in intercurrent illness.
Biosimilar agents are available e.g. Benepali (etanercept) or in development.
These drugs may increase the patient's risk of infection and/or mask the typical signs of sepsis. Discuss with rheumatology if:
- Infection is suspected on treatment with DMARDs or immunosuppressants - withold drug until it has been discussed.
- Changes to DMARD doses are planned when a patient is admitted for other reasons e.g. patient going for surgery.
- Long-term therapies stopped e.g. DMARD related side effects.
- A DMARD prescription is unclear – withhold drug until it has been discussed.
Content last reviewed November 2017