Outsmarting Osteoarthritis

arthritis image2

by: Mylo Wells, , PharmD Candidate, 2018, University of Iowa College of Pharmacy

Bone chilling cold is often used to refer to the low temperatures that have been experienced in the Midwest this winter season. For people with osteoarthritis this takes more of a literal meaning as changes in the weather can cause worsening of symptoms associated with arthritis. In the United States 30 million people currently deal with the aches and pains that come along with this condition. Symptoms range from sharp pain usually brought on by physical activity to constant dull or aching pain that may limit activities of daily living. If you have arthritis, below are some treatment options that will help to provide some relief and may have you ready to shovel your walk the next time it snows.

Where to Start

arthritis image

Physical activity has been shown to decrease pain and improve function by nearly 40% in adults with arthritis. Moderate physical activity for 150 minutes per week is recommended to be beneficial for arthritis symptoms. This can be as simple as walking, biking, swimming or gardening for 30 minutes 5 days a week. It is okay to break up the 30 minutes of activity into more than one session per day if necessary. Weight loss that may accompany the physical activity also helps to decrease pressure on the affected joint(s) also providing relief.

Next Steps

Medication therapy is the next place to turn when partial or no relief is obtained with physical activity. There are several options both over the counter and prescription only. The best choice depends on where the arthritis is occurring and some patient specific factors including things such as age.


For mild arthritis pain, topical agents are considered the safest options for most patients of any age. They are good options for hand and knee arthritis and in some cases effective for back and hip.

Counterirritants provide modest pain relief but are not considered effective for relieving severe pain. These typically contain menthol and camphor as active ingredients and are available over the counter.

-Icy Hot, Tiger Balm Arthritis Rub and Biofreeze are some common medications in this category.

Salicylates provide modest pain relief as well. They have mild anti-inflammatory effects and are often used in combination with counterirritants. Formulations are available over the counter.

-Aspercreme, Bengay and Sportscreme are common topical salicylates.

-Thera-gesic creams, Bengay Ultrastrength Cream, Icy Hot Cream are common combination products.

Capsaicin is derived from chili peppers. It creates a heat sensation on the skin and reduces levels of “substance P”-a substance secreted by nerve endings that binds with pain receptors. This is considered effective for deeper joints like the hip and back and is available over the counter.

-Capzasin and Zostrix are common capsaicin contain products


Lidocaine blocks transmission of nerve messages of pain to the brain. It helps to reduce sensation or numb painful stimuli. It is contained in topical preparations as well as patches. It is commonly used for back and hip associated arthritis. It is available over the counter and at higher concentrations as prescription only. In patients with cardiac issues it should generally be avoided due to possible systemic absorption.

-Salonpas, Aspercreme w/ Lidocaine and Lidoderm are all common products which contain lidocaine.

Topical NSAIDs have anti-inflammatory effects so they are helpful in reducing inflammation and pain in the arthritic joint. These are a top choice for people who are 75 or older. They are available as a prescription patch, gel or topical solution. Considered effective for moderate to lower level severe joint pain. Diclofenac is the active ingredient in these preparations.

-Voltaren Gel, Flector Patch and Pennsaid are the three available options in this category.

Oral Medications

Oral options can be used alone or along with topical medications. They are considered to provide moderate to severe pain relief. Not all oral medications are safe for every age group or people that may have other health conditions. Oral medications can be used to help treat most types of arthritis including hand, knee, hip and back.

Acetaminophen provides analgesic effects but little anti-inflammatory action. It is most effective when taken on a scheduled basis. This is not a good option for people with liver damage or people who frequently consume alcohol.

-The recommended dose for arthritis is 1000mg four times daily. The maximum daily limit is 4000mg in 24 hours so it is important not to exceed this dosage.

Oral NSAIDs provide analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects. They are generally taken on a scheduled basis but can be used on an as needed basis as well. These are not a good option for people with kidney damage or who have bleeding disorders/are on anticoagulant therapy. Also, people who are 75 or older should try topical products before using oral NSAIDs. If long term use is necessary, GI protective therapy may be used to prevent the development of ulcers. There are over the counter and prescription medications available.

-Recommended ibuprofen dosage is 1200 to 3200 mg/day divided in 3 to 4 doses.

-Recommended naproxen dosage is 375 or 500 mg orally twice daily which may be adjusted up or down based on clinical response. A dose of 1500mg per day is considered the maximum safe dose for prolonged use.

-Meloxicam, diclofenac, celecoxib and other prescription NSAIDs can also be used for arthritis.

Duloxetine is generally used as an anti-depressant medication but has been shown to be beneficial in arthritis. It can be used alone or in combination with other treatment options including oral NSAIDs. It is considered the second line oral medication option. Duloxetine is prescription only.

-The effective dose for arthritis is 60 to 120 mg once daily.


Intraarticular glucocorticoid injections are steroid injections placed in the joint. These are administered in patients with moderate to severe pain and in those who have not had success with or cannot use other treatment options.

Treatment Options That Have Not Been Shown to Be Effective

Opioids-do not use

Hyaluronans (hyaluronic acid)

Nerve Stimulation

Glucosamine and chondroitin-okay to use, just lack of evidence

Other Nutritional Supplements-okay to use, just lack of evidence

Last Line

Many people can help control their arthritis symptoms with exercise and/or medications. For those that have severe pain with no relief surgery is an option. Knee and hip replacements are major surgeries which take months of time and physical therapy to recover from but do often help those who received little or no relief from other options.

The next time you stop by the pharmacy, make sure to ask one of the pharmacists what they would recommend for treatment of your arthritis symptoms so you can get back to activities you enjoy this winter and spring.


Deveza MD, Bennell PhD. Management of knee osteoarthritis. Hunter D, ed. UpToDate. Waltham, MA: UpToDate Inc. http://www.uptodate.com (Accessed on January 15, 2018.)

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018). Arthritis. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/arthritis/index.htm

Arthritis Foundation. (2018). Arthritis Medication. Retrieved from http://www.arthritis.org/living-with-arthritis/treatments/medication/


Vitamins & Minerals: Who should take what?


by: Stephen Vavroch, PharmD Candidate, Class of 2018, University of Iowa College of Pharmacy

Micronutrients are chemicals that are essential in minuscule amounts for our bodies to maintain their normal functions through basic metabolism. Micronutrients include vitamins and minerals. Most vitamins and minerals are obtained from the foods we eat. However, lack of dietary diversity or unhealthy eating can result in a deficiency that may require supplementation.

Taking a multivitamin doesn’t make you healthy

The main source of your vitamin and mineral intake should come from the foods you eat. Supplementation may help in certain cases, but unless you are deficient in a particular vitamin or mineral, there is very little research supporting supplementation in the prevention or treatment of chronic diseases. The old saying, “too much of a good thing” also applies to vitamins. Certain vitamins like vitamins A, B9, and E can result in harmful effects when taken in excess. There are certain populations that can benefit from taking certain vitamins and minerals, however. These populations include infants and children, pregnant women, and midlife and older adults.

Infants and children

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends vitamin D and iron supplementation in infants that are breastfed. 400 IU of vitamin D and 1 mg/kg/day of iron are the recommended daily doses. Supplementation should continue until the child consumes regular vitamin D-fortified whole milk and iron-containing foods. Infants getting formula usually do not require additional supplementation because vitamin D and iron are often included. Children consuming a healthy diet should get all of the vitamins and minerals they need from the food they eat, so supplementation is not usually necessary.

Pregnant women

Folic acid (vitamin B9) should be consumed by women of childbearing age and throughout pregnancy to prevent neural tube defects in developing fetuses. These women should be consuming at least 0.4 mg of folic acid per day to reach the recommended daily dose. Women at higher risk of neural tube developmental defects may need higher amounts of folic acid. Prenatal vitamins often come with the recommended amount of folic acid, along with several other vitamins/minerals important during pregnancy including vitamin D, iron, and calcium.

Midlife and older adults

As people age, they become less efficient at absorbing certain micronutrients. Specifically, adults over 50 years old may not absorb vitamin B12 as adequately as they did in their youth. Calcium and vitamin D are also recommended in this population to promote bone health. 1000 mg of calcium and 600 IU of vitamin D are the daily recommended amounts in premenopausal women and men aged 50 to 70 years, and that daily recommendation increases to 1200 mg of calcium and 800 IU of vitamin D in postmenopausal women and men over the age of 70.

Regular multivitamin use is not recommended in the average healthy adult population due to the limited research regarding its benefit in chronic health outcomes. With minimal adverse effects, the risks associated with taking a daily multivitamin are relatively low, however. A healthy and well-balanced diet should be the primary source of your micronutrient content and taking a multivitamin does not count as an appropriate substitute. For a listing of the different vitamins, their potential uses, and what foods to find them in, refer to the attached handout.

  1. Manson J, Bassuk S. Vitamin and Mineral Supplements. JAMA. 2018;319(9):859.

E-cigarettes – What You Need to Know

by: Cole McKenzie, University of Iowa College of Pharmacy, Class of 2018

E-cigarettes entered the market in the United States back in 2006 and their use has dramatically increased over the years.  The many uncertainties question e-cigarettes safety and whether they help tobacco users stop smoking. There is question about long-term health effects as well as public health concerns about the effects e-cigarettes are having on smoking prevalence and access for adolescents.

What is an e-cigarette?

An e-cigarette consist of a refillable cartridge containing a liquid, an atomizer (vaporization chamber with a heating element), and a battery. When a user inhales an e-cigarette the atomizer heats the liquid which creates a vapor that duplicates tobacco smoke, but is not. As a result of how e-cigarettes work, “vaping” is a common term used to describe when an individual uses an e-cig.


©2017 UpToDate® E-cigarette

So what’s the problem with e-cigarettes?

Currently, the United States FDA is not regulating them, so consumers of e-cigarettes are unaware of what exactly they are inhaling. The main components found in the liquid of e-cigs are nicotine, propylene glycol or glycerol, and flavoring. Chemical analysis of products available in the US has shown inconsistency with the manufacturer’s package labeling. Some products said to be nicotine-free have been found to contain nicotine, whereas others that have claimed to have a specified amount ended up containing higher concentrations. Toxic metals such as tin, lead, nickel, and chromium have also been found in e-cigarette liquids.

Another area of public concern is that unlike conventional cigarettes, e-cigs are able to be sold with different flavorings. With over 7,000 flavors available it should come as no surprise that it appears e-cigarettes are attracting the youth, many of which who are not already smoking. Data and surveys predict that from 2011 to 2014, e-cigarette use in high school students has increased from 1.5 to 13.4 percent.

Surveys have shown that a majority of e-cigarette users are made up of current conventional smokers of cigarettes. This majority of users view e-cigarettes as a tool to help them quit conventional cigarettes or reduce their use. At this point e-cigarettes are still too new to the market to determine if they could be a useful tool for people trying to quit conventional cigarette smoking. There are also the additional health concerns of inhaling e-cigarette’s contents and their alarming rise of use among the adolescent population. It will be interesting to see whether e-cigarettes will continue to expand and whether congress will begin to push for more regulations.

National Immunization Month


August is National Immunization Awareness Month (NIAM). NIAM was established to highlight the importance of vaccination for people of all ages. Additionally, it was put in place to encourage people to ensure that they are up to date on the vaccines that are appropriate for their age. Vaccination is vitally important as it has helped eradicate and lower the severity of many diseases that once were a serious threat.

What is a vaccine?

The first vaccine was developed by Edward Jenner when he was able to help provide protection against smallpox by inoculating people with the cowpox virus. Since then, many more vaccines have been able to be developed, and as a result, many diseases have been eradicated. A vaccine is able to pass what is called active immunity to an individual, and they will be able to avoid contracting a disease. Some vaccines have dead forms of the virus or bacteria and others have low concentrations of the active virus. While most vaccines are given as shots, other vaccines have been made to be a flu mist or even as a solution that patients can drink.

Do vaccines cause autism?

No! In 1998, Andrew Wakefield published a study that established a link between MMR and autism, which received a lot of publicity and caused a lot of widespread concern. The study was poorly done, and a lot of other aspects of the published study were incorrectly attempted. The journal that published the article retracted the article, and Wakefield and all other involved with the study were guilty of several ethical violations. Since then, CDC has issued multiple statements stating that there is no link between vaccines and autism.

How do I figure out what vaccines I need?

First, obtain a record of your immunizations from your doctor. Additionally, the state usually keeps track of the immunizations that you have received as well through a program that pharmacies and providers can access. Once you have this information, you can discuss options that are appropriate for you with a pharmacist or other healthcare provider. The CDC has recommended schedules available online (see first link listed under additional resources).

What if I don’t see a doctor regularly? Where else can I receive vaccines?

Pharmacists are now able to administer all vaccines to patients over the age of 18 without a prescription. It may be a good idea to double check with your pharmacy to see if they have the vaccine you need in stock.

Additional Resources:

2017 Vaccine Schedules for Adults and Children: http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/schedules/

CDC Vaccine Website: http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/parents/index.html

National Immunization Awareness Month Page: http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/events/niam.html


Obstructive Sleep Apnea: An Overview

By: Quinton Franklin, University of Iowa College of Pharmacy, Class of 2018.

Obstructive sleep apnea, otherwise known as OSA, is the most common sleep related breathing disorder with an estimated 26% of adults aged 30-70 having obstructive sleep apnea. Despite the large prevalence, an estimated 80% of moderate or severe OSA cases go undiagnosed. OSA can also have a large impact on your health, causing fatigue, impaired concentration, daytime sleepiness, increased blood pressure, severe gastric reflux, depression and irritability, brain damage, and even sudden death. Given the high prevalence, frequently missed diagnosis, and consequences of untreated OSA, it is important to be educated on OSA and how it is treated.

What is Obstructive sleep apnea?

Obstructive sleep apnea is a sleep disorder where the airway is completely blocked leading to a cessation of breathing. In OSA, loud snoring can be caused due to the increased effort needed to make air pass through the blocked airway and into the lungs. Complete airway obstruction can be due to the structure of the face, leading to components of the mouth such as the tongue, palate, and tonsils completely blocking the airway. The risk of OSA is increased in men, obesity, increasing age, abnormalities of the face and upper airway and those with a family history of OSA.


How do I know if I have obstructive sleep apnea?

Unfortunately, OSA does not have an easy and specific diagnostic test. If you suspect that you have OSA, or have symptoms such as waking in the night, excessive snoring or cessation of breathing reported by a partner, daytime sleepiness, wake to excessively dry mouth. or other signs of poor sleep, It is important to let your healthcare provider know. Depending on their decision you may be asked to participate in a sleep study, where you will be monitored overnight to check for the presence and frequency of blocked breathing during your sleep.

How is Obstructive sleep apnea treated?

Thankfully obstructive sleep apnea is easily treatable through a variety of methods. OSA can be treated through weight loss if needed, modifications to sleep posture, decreased sedative use, or by way of a continuous positive airway pressure device or CPAP.

What is a CPAP?

A CPAP helps to keep the airway open by way of pressure gradients, increasing the amount of air delivered to the lungs. For best results, it is important to find a CPAP mask that fits snug onto your face, and that is not too loose or tight and to use your CPAP daily. In addition, it is important to keep your CPAP clean and properly maintained, as dirty CPAP machines decrease effectiveness and can cause bacterial infection.


Here at NuCara we employ several respiratory therapists to help you select a CPAP device, mask, supplies, and give further instructions and tips on how to use your device. For more information, look to our website http://www.nucara.com.

New Year’s Resolution: Reducing Stress

By: Amy Frew, Drake University, PharmD Candidate 2017


Stress is our body’s natural response to challenging situations, whether it’s running away from a bear, giving a presentation at work, asking someone out on a date, or dealing with the everyday problems in our lives. But a lot of Americans, almost half in fact, report that their daily levels of stress impact their physical and mental health. While there is no quick fix to eliminate all of the stress in our lives, there are ways to manage your stress and minimize its effects.

Identifying Your Stressors

In order to manage your stress, you must first identify what triggers your stress. What stresses you?

  • Financial responsibilities
  • Personal relationships
  • Major life changes
  • Work
  • Family responsibilities
  • Family or personal health concerns

How does high stress affect our bodies?

Stress releases a rush of hormones all throughout your body. Some physical effects of stress include headaches, muscle pain, chest pain, fatigue, upset stomach, and lack of sleep. In the long term, being stressed can increase your risk of diseases like high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and even heart attacks and strokes.

These stress hormones also act on our brain and decrease our mental and emotional stamina. Being constantly stressed can cause us to feel anxious, depressed, or angry, which decreases our work performance and may affect our relationships with others. This increased tension in relationships can lead to a vicious cycle of more stress and conflict if we don’t take control of our stress levels.

Healthy Ways to Manage Stress

  • Eat regular, well-balanced meals. Oftentimes, stress causes us to eat too much or skip meals altogether. Designate meal times and make sure to include lean protein, fruits, and vegetables to boost your energy and your spirits!
  • Make time for exercise. Exercise releases endorphins, which cause your brain and your body to feel good. Pick an activity that you enjoy and start light to moderate exercise a couple times a week. Increase your activity level gradually to prevent burnout and injury.
  • Get plenty of sleep. Getting enough rest each night improves your performance and leaves you feeling more energized!
  • Take a break! Step back from the situation for a few minutes to better re-focus your intentions. Take a short walk, close your eyes, take a few slow, deep breaths, or practice yoga or meditation; whatever helps you to regain your calm and improve your mood.
  • Talk to others. Share your feelings and your problems with people you trust, such as a friend, parent, relative, doctor, or religious advisor. If this does not help, you may need to seek further guidance from a psychologist or counselor.
  • Avoid drugs and alcohol. Escaping from your problems in drugs and alcohol may seem easy, but they inevitably leave you feeling worse and creating additional problems and stress.

For more information about managing stress, visit the following websites:

If you or someone you know needs immediate help, please contact one of the following hotlines:

Disaster Distress Helpline 1-800-985-5990
National Suicide Prevention Helpline 1-800-273-TALK
Youth Mental Health Line 1-888-568-1112

The Mayo Clinic. Stress relief basics. http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/basics/stress-relief/hlv-20049495. Updated April 8, 2014. Accessed January 12, 2017.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Coping with Stress. https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pub/coping_with_stress_tips.html. Updated October 2, 2015. Accessed January 12, 2017.

Bad Habits Your Heart Hates

by: NuCara Intern, Lindsey GarnerDrake University, PharmD/MBA Candidate 2016


Heart shaped by hands

  1. Smoking

Smoking is a habit for some, but an addiction for others. It is the #1 preventable cause of death and illness in the United States. We know it can cause narrowing of blood vessels leading to your heart, which, coupled with the carbon monoxide in your blood stream, means decreased oxygen flow to your heart. You can end up with chest pain, heart attack, arrhythmias, or death. Aside from the thousands of unhealthy chemicals found in cigarettes, the nicotine in tobacco products causes a rise in blood pressure. See our post here for more information on how to quit.1

2. Putting off going to the doctor

Just because you didn’t have any health problems when you were 25, doesn’t mean you don’t have any now as a 40 year old. Many people don’t realize that over the course of 10-15 years their body has changed to develop high cholesterol, high triglycerides, or high blood pressure. Even though you don’t feel these things, you still need to see a doctor regularly to get them assessed! It’s time to make your yearly physical a priority.

3. Sleeping too much or not enough

Having an irregular sleep pattern is definitely an annoyance for some and inevitable for others (especially those with demanding jobs, kids, or sleep conditions), but not having a steady sleep routine can put undue pressure on your heart. The stress hormone Cortisol is regulated by your sleep schedule. If your sleep schedule is abnormal, your Cortisol level could remain unnecessarily high throughout the day and night.

  1. Drinking too much Alcohol

Drinking excessive alcohol puts additional calories and triglycerides into your body. Extra calories and higher triglycerides (sugary fats in the blood) can lead to obesity, high blood pressure, or diabetes. Binge drinking can cause arrhythmias (heart beats that are out of normal rhythm), which can lead to stroke. What’s considered excessive? For women the American Heart Association recommends no more than one drink per day, and men are allowed to have 2. One drink is one 12 oz. beer, 4 oz. of wine, 1.5 oz. of 80-proof spirits, or 1 oz. of 100-proof spirits.2

5. Ignoring your Belly Fat

Developing a “belly” with age isn’t supposed to be normal! The more fat you store in your midsection, the higher your risk for cardiovascular disease. Ask your doctor to assess your risk based on waist circumference and visceral fat (the fat between your midsection organs). Men who have a waist circumference greater than 40 inches and women with a waist circumference of greater than 35 inches are at higher risk of developing diabetes, hypertension, breast or colorectal cancer, and heart disease.

  1. Ignoring your High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure can be due to stress, eating a poor diet (especially one high in salt), lack of exercise, lack of sleep, excessive weight, drinking too much alcohol, smoking, and advancing age. Any of these sound familiar? Nearly everyone has at least one risk factor for high blood pressure, yet many people don’t remember the last time they got it checked. High blood pressure, while not usually a painful or bothersome diagnosis, can lead to damage in your heart. The longer you let it go unattended, the worse it will get. The good news is that there’s almost always a way to treat it without turning to medication. While medications do an excellent job of improving cardiac outcomes, changing your diet, exercising more, and getting more sleep can all lower your blood pressure.3

  1. Ignoring your Depression or Anxiety

Even though depression, anxiety, and mental health in general is getting much more help and attention than in years past, there are still many people who don’t think they “qualify” for help. Whether it’s due to cultural, familial, or personal ideas, acknowledging depression or anxiety is still stigmatized in some areas. Unfortunately, people with depression frequently have more biomarkers in their system that indicate a higher risk for cardiovascular events and coronary artery disease. While we’re still trying to figure out if depression comes first or follows a coronary event, the fact remains that the two together mean worse outcomes for the patient. That being said, don’t think that you aren’t important enough for treatment. Depression and anxiety can manifest in different ways for different people. Make sure to seek treatment! Your primary care provider or a specialized doctor can both be helpful.

  1. Pretending you don’t have time for exercise

We’re all guilty of this one — whether it’s pretending not to hear your alarm go off in the morning, or insisting that your day was just too long to put in an extra 30 minutes to go work out. As much as we try to convince ourselves that we can’t make time, a 30 minute walk, jog, or run is only 4% of your day! Like it or not, this is the one thing that you absolutely cannot continue to ignore. The more excuses you make, the harder it is to start. So, give yourself a kick start and make it happen!

  1. Acting like your dietary choices “aren’t that bad”

Yes they are, and you know it. If you’re eating more than 50% of foods that come from boxes, cans, or packaged on a shelf, then chances are that you’re eating an unnecessary amount of extra sugar, fat, and salt. The extra sugar can lead to insulin resistance, the extra fat can cause increases in triglycerides, and the salt can cause water retention that leads to high blood pressure. A majority of your food choices should come from complex carbohydrates (fruits, vegetables, legumes, and some whole grains), lean means (including fish), and healthy fats (olive oil, avocados, nuts and seeds). Everything you eat either helps or hurts your body, so consider that next time you stop for some fast food eats. Try keeping a food journal for a week, then tell me if your choices “aren’t that bad.” Bonus points can go to anyone who actually eats the recommended daily value of fiber (25 grams).

  1. Living on caffeine and energy drinks

Energy drinks are packed with caffeine, guarana, and sugar. Drinking even one energy drink can cause a modest spike in blood pressure. Drinking more than one per day is sure to elevate blood pressure, and put you at risk for heart beat irregularities. Drinking more than one per day on a regular basis is going to put your heart in toxic conditions. If you have a familial history of heart disease or arrhythmias, you’re at an even higher risk. Feeling any of the following after drinking one energy drink is a reason to go see a doctor, immediately: racing heart, skipping or jumping heartbeat, feeling jittery or anxious, or extended dizzy spells.