"It looks after me”: how older patients make decisions about analgesics for osteoarthritis

29 August 2014

Objective: To explore the key motivators behind selection of analgesics (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), paracetamol and complementary medications (CMs)) by patients with osteoarthritis (OA). Methods: A qualitative study, in which in-depth semi-structured interviews were conducted with 15 OA patients, recruited from four general practices in Sydney, Australia. Patients were aged 65 or above, and were currently taking, or had recently taken, an NSAID for osteoarthritis. Results: Three key themes emerged from the data: reliance, routine and pill load. Reliance: Patients were strongly reliant upon NSAIDs because they consistently satisfied their needs. By contrast, they were much less reliant upon paracetamol because of uncertainty or scepticism about its effectiveness. They were not reliant upon CMs but were willing to take them indefinitely because they were perceived as being without risk. Routine and pill load: Many patients took an NSAID, as well as CMs as part of a ‘daily routine’. By contrast, patients had difficulty developing a routine around using paracetamol at the recommended maximum dose because of the implicit frequency of dosing required and an aversion to the associated ‘pill load’. Conclusion: The results highlight the importance of exploring the perceptions and preferences of patients with regard to analgesics for OA. Clinician advice regarding analgesia for OA should take account of the possible reliance of the patient upon an NSAID, their medicine routines, and their potential concern about the pill load associated, in particular, with paracetamol.