Objective: Because there is controversy regarding the efficacy of acetaminophen in rheumatic diseases and because apparently safer nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are being produced, we surveyed rheumatic disease patients about their preferences for these agents to determine the degree to which one type of therapeutic agent is preferred over the other.
Methods: In 1998, we surveyed by mailed questionnaire 1,799 patients with osteoarthritis (OA), rheumatoid arthritis, or fibromyalgia who were participating in a long-term outcome study. Patients who had taken acetaminophen rated the effectiveness of acetaminophen, compared its effectiveness with that of NSAIDs, and then rated their overall satisfaction with acetaminophen compared with NSAIDs when both effectiveness and side effects were considered.
Results: Two-thirds of study participants had taken acetaminophen. About 37% of patients who had taken acetaminophen found it to be moderately or very effective and about 63% indicated that it was not effective or was only slightly effective. One-fourth of the patients found acetaminophen and NSAIDs to be equally effective, but >60% found acetaminophen to be much less effective or somewhat less effective. About 12% preferred acetaminophen to NSAIDs. When both effectiveness and side effects were considered together, 25% of the patients had no preference, 60% preferred NSAIDs, and 14% preferred acetaminophen.
Conclusion: There was a considerable and statistically significant preference for NSAIDs compared with acetaminophen among the 3 groups of rheumatic disease patients. Although this preference decreased slightly with age and was less pronounced in OA patients, the preference was noted among all categories of patients and was not altered by disease severity. If safety and cost are not issues, there would hardly ever be a reason to recommend acetaminophen over NSAIDs, since patients generally preferred NSAIDs and fewer than 14% preferred acetaminophen. If safety and costs are issues, then the recommendation of the American College Rheumatology that acetaminophen be tried first seems correct, since 38.2% found acetaminophen to be as effective or more effective than NSAIDs.