Living with arthritis is difficult. There are different forms of arthritic diseases with differing degrees of severity, but what unites them is the debilitating effect that they have on people.  Those effects are made worse for those suffering with a comorbidity, but there is hope. 


One of the most stubborn non-clinical side effects of arthritis is myth-making.  Some persistent myths about arthritis are that it only affects older people, cannot be effectively treated, and cannot be prevented — all untrue.

Dr. Cory Baillie is a rheumatologist in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and discusses some options and tips for alleviating arthritis in those with comorbidities. “Cardiovascular disease is probably the biggest comorbidity, so if you’re a smoker, stop.  Smoking is also a major risk factor for rheumatoid arthritis: there is a greater number of smokers with rheumatoid arthritis than in the general population. Exercise and physiotherapy are important too. Flu season is coming up, so those with rheumatoid arthritis should get their flu shot,” says Dr. Baillie. 

“In terms of medicinal options, there are topical treatments... anti-inflammatories. Acetaminophen is generally thought to be a safer option for pain relief and offers less risk for ulcers and bleeding,” says Dr. Baillie. Many over-the-counter medications can increase the risk of a number of serious medical conditions, particularly gastrointestinal bleeding — and can interact with prescription medications, making treatment not only complicated, but potentially dangerous.

Putting out the fire

Perhaps the safest drug for daily pain relief is acetaminophen. Dr. William Bensen is a Hamilton-based rheumatologist and sees acetaminophen as playing an important auxiliary role in treating arthritic diseases. “You can add acetaminophen to anti-inflammatories. It’s a very good adjunctive drug,” says Dr. Bensen. 

“In some cases of arthritis, such as non-inflammatory chronic arthritis, acetaminophen can be the drug of choice, but it’s vital to ‘put out the fire’ first — so we take an aggressive approach to treating the disease, and the same with comorbidities. You have to manage the whole person, not just the symptoms. So, stop smoking. What about managing weight? Stress — it flares arthritis. Exercise is also vital. Every patient is different, so you have to focus on each patient’s individual issues.” 

Living with arthritis and comorbidities is tough, but lifestyle changes, along with informed choices can create immense, positive change.