By Jennifer Huget
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 1, 2002
U.S. cases: 21 million
Last year's big news in osteoarthritis, a painful condition characterized by cartilage deterioration and bone enlargement, was a disturbing report that Celebrex and Vioxx, two best-selling drugs used to treat arthritis pain, may slightly increase the risk of cardiovascular events, including heart attacks and strokes.
This finding, which appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association, came from one of several published studies that raised concerns about the two drugs, taken by millions of arthritis sufferers. Celebrex and Vioxx are popular because they offer pain relief without the side effects (including increased risk of gastrointestinal ailments) associated with NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as ibuprofen and aspirin.
Despite a flurry of lawsuits against Merck, the maker of Vioxx, and Pharmacia, the maker of Celebrex, the drugs remain recommended and common – if expensive – treatments. Merck and Pharmacia maintain that the drugs are safe.
Other big news was the launch of a National Institutes of Health (NIH) study of the effectiveness of the popular dietary supplements glucosamine and chondroitin in treating the disease. Consumer Reports issued its own evaluation of the supplements in its January 2002 issue and found them effective in easing symptoms (despite inconsistent product quality and often inadequate labeling).
Although osteoarthritis, the most common of 100 kinds of arthritis, is associated with aging, studies last year confirmed that many of the risk factors associated with its development, including excess weight and lack of fitness, are modifiable; even a third risk factor, joint injury, can often be avoided. Educating the public – including young people who don't yet see themselves as being at risk – will be a key 2002 goal of the Arthritis Foundation's National Arthritis Action Plan. Tai chi exercise programs were singled out last year as particularly helpful in reducing pain and making daily activities less difficult for older osteoarthritis sufferers.