Diclofenac sodium is a non steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) that relieves pain, inflammation and fever. It is commonly prescribed to treat pain, swelling and stiffness associated with osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis. Doctors also prescribe diclofenac to treat headaches, muscle aches, dental pain and sports injuries. Diclofenac is available in generic form and as brands such as Cataflam and Voltaren.
Like other NSAIDs, diclofenac sodium works by blocking cyclooxygenase (COX) enzymes responsible for producing prostaglandins. Prostaglandins create inflammatory substances in the body as an immune response, and also can increase body temperature and cause a fever.
Patients are advised to take diclofenac sodium with at least 6 oz. of water. Because diclofenac sodium can irritate the esophagus, people should not lie down for at least 30 minutes after taking it to avoid the tablet becoming lodged in the throat. The tablets are to be swallowed whole, not crushed or chewed.
Common Side Effects
Most side effects associated with diclofenac sodium are gastrointestinal. They include stomach pain, heartburn, indigestion, gas, bloating, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting and constipation or diarrhea. Patients can take diclofenac sodium with food or milk to prevent stomach upset. Antacids can help if any gastrointestinal side effects do occur.
Serious Gastrointestinal Effects
Like other NSAIDs, diclofenac sodium can increase the risk of ulcers or perforations in the stomach or intestine. Bleeding from these conditions can be life-threatening and can occur without warning. Abdominal pain may be a symptom, but not always. Patients should seek prompt medical attention for symptoms of bloody or tarry stools, blood in the urine, or coughing up or vomiting blood.
Diclofenac sodium, like other NSAIDs except for aspirin, can increase the risk of cardiovascular problems, including heart attack or stroke. The risk increases the longer a person takes diclofenac. The lowest possible dose should be used for as short a time as appropriate.