Background: Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) inhibit cyclo-oxygenase (COX), which leads to suppression of COX-1-mediated production of gastrointestinal-protective prostaglandins. Gastrointestinal injury is a common outcome. We compared the efficacy, safety, and tolerability of long-term therapy with celecoxib, a COX-1 sparing inhibitor of COX-2, with diclofenac, a non-specific COX inhibitor.
Methods: 655 patients with adult-onset rheumatoid arthritis of at least 6 months' duration were randomly assigned oral celecoxib 200 mg twice daily or diclofenac SR 75 mg twice daily for 24 weeks. Anti-inflammatory and analgesic activity and tolerability were assessed at baseline, every 4 weeks, and at week 24. We assessed gastrointestinal safety by upper-gastrointestinal endoscopy within 7 days of the last treatment dose at centres where the procedure was available. Analysis was by intention-to-treat.
Findings: 430 patients underwent endoscopy (celecoxib n=212, diclofenac n=218). The two drugs were similar in management of rheumatoid arthritis pain and inflammation. Gastroduodenal ulcers were detected endoscopically in 33 (15%) patients treated with diclofenac and in eight (4%) in the celecoxib group (p<0.001). The rate of withdrawal for any gastrointestinal-related adverse event, most commonly abdominal pain, diarrhoea, and dyspepsia, was nearly three times higher in the diclofenac-treated group than in the celecoxib group (16 vs 6%; p<0.001).
Interpretation: Celecoxib showed sustained anti-inflammatory and analgesic activity similar to diclofenac, with a lower frequency of upper gastrointestinal ulceration or gastrointestinal adverse events, and tolerability was better.