“It looks after me”: How older patients make decisions about analgesics for osteoarthritis




To explore the key motivators behind selection of analgesics (nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs [NSAIDs], acetaminophen, and complementary medications [CMs]) by patients with osteoarthritis (OA).


We performed a qualitative study in which in-depth semistructured interviews were conducted with 15 OA patients recruited from 4 general practices in Sydney, Australia. Patients were ages ≥65 years, and were currently taking or had recently taken an NSAID for OA.


Three key themes emerged from the data: reliance, routine, and pill load. Patients were strongly reliant upon NSAIDs because they consistently satisfied their needs. By contrast, they were much less reliant upon acetaminophen because of uncertainty or skepticism about its effectiveness. They were not reliant upon CMs but were willing to take them indefinitely because they were perceived as being without risk. 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 acetaminophen at the recommended maximum dose because of the implicit frequency of dosing required and an aversion to the associated “pill load.”


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 acetaminophen.