Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs in the pharmacological management of osteoarthritis in the very old: prescribe or proscribe?

Ther Adv Musculoskelet Dis. 2021 Jun 18:13:1759720X211022149. doi: 10.1177/1759720X211022149. eCollection 2021.


Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common form of arthritis worldwide, and ranges in the top 5-10 most disabling diseases. Contrary to common opinion, this disease is severe, often symptomatic, and may lead to loss of mobility and independence, as well as being responsible for increased frailty and excess mortality [standardized ratio: 1.55 (95% confidence interval, CI: 1.41-1.70)]. The incidence of OA increases dramatically with age in an increasingly ageing world. Therefore, practitioners involved in the management of OA often have to manage very old patients, aged 75-80 years and above, as part of their daily practice. Treatment options are limited. In addition to education and physical treatments, which are at the forefront of all treatment recommendations but require a low level of symptoms to be implemented, many pharmacological options are proposed. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can be used as a second-line treatment but with great caution. However, the precise incidence of cardiovascular, renal, and gastrointestinal adverse events in very elderly patients is unclear. All of these risks are increased in the elderly. The relative risks can be extrapolated from various studies. However, what is the absolute risk according to age categorization? The answer to this question is important because NSAIDs should be used in very elderly patients with OA only if full information has been provided and the decision to prescribe this treatment is shared between the patient and their doctor. This article reviews the risks and currently available recommendations, and proposes practical options and warnings to allow for a responsible and limited use of NSAIDs in the very old.

Plain language summary: NSAIDS in the very Old : Prescribe or Proscribe? Osteoarthritis (OA) in the very old is a serious disease leading to loss of independence, frailty, and excess mortality. Quantitative data from clinical trials and population-based observational studies on the risk of NSAID-related side effects allow the prescriber to provide more accurate information to each patient. If there is no contraindication, the decision to initiate NSAID therapy in a very old OA patient should be made in a shared manner, with the patient fully informed of the risks.

Keywords: NSAIDs; benefit/risk; osteoarthritis; shared prescription; very old.

Publication types

  • Review