RCGP response to research in The Lancet on the effectiveness of paracetamol for osteoarthritis

Publication date: 17 March 2016

Dr Maureen Baker, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: “Osteoarthritis can cause considerable pain and discomfort to our patients, and as GPs we want to do what we can to help them to manage this.

“Paracetamol is a very effective drug at easing pain and controlling fevers in our patients – but like with everything else, it is best to err on the side of caution when taking the drug over a long period of time.

“The majority of evidence still suggests that paracetamol is a safe drug for most patients, but a number of recent studies – today’s included - do cast doubt on its effectiveness at treating osteoarthritis.

“What the study doesn’t suggest is a suitable – and safe – alternative for pain management in patients with osteoarthritis. We know that alternatives, such as NSAIDs, can be effective but they can have nasty side-effects for patients if they are taken over a long period of time. And whilst GPs understand and advocate lifestyle changes to patients, that can help ease their pain, there is a limit to how viable these are, particularly in serious cases.

“Nevertheless, as new research is published, it is important that we take this on board as guidelines for healthcare professionals are updated in the best interests of our patients. We would welcome more research into safe and effective alternatives to paracetamol, so that we can help our patients with osteoarthritis manage their condition and live as comfortable a life as possible.

“Patients who regularly take paracetamol – either as prescribed by their doctor or self-medicated – should not panic as a result of this research. But if they are concerned about taking the drug regularly, over a long period of time, they should make a non-urgent appointment with their GP, or discuss this with their local pharmacist.”

Further Information

RCGP Press office: 020 3188 7574/7575/7633
Out of hours: 0203 188 7659

Notes to editor

The Royal College of General Practitioners is a network of more than 52,000 family doctors working to improve care for patients. We work to encourage and maintain the highest standards of general medical practice and act as the voice of GPs on education, training, research and clinical standards.

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