Diclofenac (usually sold as diclofenac sodium or diclofenac potassium) is an NSAID medication, which stands for nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. This puts it in the same family as well-known medicines like aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve). It won’t come as any surprise, then, that diclofenac is used for its ability to reduce pain and inflammation. However, this drug shouldn’t be used interchangeably with other NSAIDs, and should only be used under your doctor’s supervision and following their instructions.
What is diclofenac used for?
Diclofenac sodium (and other formulations) is given by prescription only to treat the pain and inflammation symptoms resulting from a variety of conditions. Only your doctor can determine if this medicine is appropriate for you. Always consult with your doctor before taking any new medicine or treatment, and make sure you understand diclofenac’s contraindications, drug interactions and side effects.
Diclofenac is sometimes used to treat musculoskeletal pain. Doctors will sometimes prescribe it for pain and inflammation in muscle aches and backaches. It can also be prescribed for post-traumatic pain and inflammation, such as after an operation or in the case of sports injuries, muscle strains, sprains or bruises.
This medicine may also be given to patients suffering from dental pain or TMJ pain.
Oral and topical preparations of diclofenac are often used to manage arthritis pain and joint stiffness, including in osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis.
Other uses for diclofenac: PMS cramps and more
This anti-inflammatory pain reliever isn’t limited to musculoskeletal problems, though. Diclofenac sodium is sometimes used to provide symptom relief during gout flare-ups, or when a patient is dealing with kidney stones or gallstones.
Furthermore, one specific formulation of this medicine, sold under the brand name Cataflam, is prescribed for painful menstrual cramps and other symptoms of PMS, such as backaches. It can also be given to patients suffering from endometriosis, a chronic inflammation of the lining of the uterus.
Can you take diclofenac for headaches and migraines?
When we get a headache, we often reach for the nearest over-the-counter pain reliever without giving it a second thought. Other NSAID medicines, like aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen, have been used as a headache remedy for many years. So you might think that, because diclofenac is also an NSAID, it can be used the same way. But it’s important to understand that this medicine is not appropriate for certain types of headaches. For that reason, you need to consult with your doctor and make sure you know what kind of headache is causing you to reach for a painkiller.
Diclofenac can be good for: Migraine headache attacks
Migraines are one of those things where you would know if you had one. Still, it’s always a good idea to be clear on the symptoms of a migraine so you can differentiate it from other types of headaches. Some general characteristics of migraines include:
- Nausea or vomiting
- Sensitivity to light and sound
- May be associated with certain times in the menstrual cycle
- May be triggered by certain food or drink
- May be preceded by an “aura” with temporary changes in vision
- Tend to last longer (2–72 hours)
- Usually occur infrequently or with moderate frequency
- More likely to affect women than men
Generally, someone suffering from a migraine headache will want to seek relief somewhere dark and quiet, without strong smells. These are the kinds of headaches that make you want nothing more than to curl up somewhere dark and sleep until it goes away.
For people who suffer from migraines, a special formulation of diclofenac is available to help nip these beasts in the bud at the first sign. This version of the medicine is sold under the brand name Cambia. It is given as a powder and generally mixed with water to form a solution, and then taken orally (by drinking). The goal is to provide relief as fast as possible.
However, it’s important to realize that diclofenac for migraines is for acute, symptomatic treatment only. It is not effective at preventing migraines that haven’t begun, or at reducing your susceptibility or the number of migraine headache attacks you get.
Diclofenac should NOT be used for: Cluster headaches
Cluster headaches, like migraines, are extremely painful, often debilitating. But they should NOT be treated with diclofenac, not in tablet form or with the oral suspension used to treat migraines.
How do you know if your headache is a cluster headache? These types of headaches are generally characterized by these traits:
- Pain confined to one side of the head
- Watery eyes and runny nose
- May be mistaken for a sinus headache
- Don’t last as long as migraines
- Recur frequently over a period of weeks or months (cluster)
- Causes and triggers are unknown
- More likely to affect men than women
These headaches present a sharp, burning pain. People describe cluster headaches as feeling like a red-hot iron poker has been jabbed through their eye. Unlike migraines, someone suffering from a cluster headache will usually not want to hide in a dark, quiet room. Rather, they may feel agitated and restless, finding relief by pacing back and forth or even screaming.
Diclofenac is not an appropriate treatment for cluster headache pain. However, relief for this condition is available, usually in the form of oxygen mask treatment, although certain injectable medications or nasal sprays may also be used.
How does diclofenac work in the body?
Like other NSAID medications, diclofenac sodium reduces pain and inflammation by interfering with the body’s production of substances called prostaglandins.
When the body is injured or damaged in some way, one of its natural responses in starting the healing process is to cause inflammation and pain. For example, a sprained ankle may show redness and swelling (signs of the inflammatory response), and obviously also hurts a lot. One of the things responsible for these inflammation and pain symptoms is a class of molecules called prostaglandins, which are naturally produced by the body.
The chemical reactions that the body uses to synthesize these prostaglandins require enzymes to speed things up. NSAID drugs, including diclofenac, work by blocking some of these enzymes. The enzymes COX-1 and COX-2 are inhibited by most NSAID medicines, although research suggests that COX-2 plays the main role in the pain relief, anti-inflammatory and fever reducing properties of these drugs.
The NSAIDs that also inhibit COX-1 seem to have a greater risk of gastrointestinal side effects, such as ulcers and stomach bleeding. This includes diclofenac, which is why it’s important to understand possible side effects and contraindications and always follow your doctor’s instructions when taking this medication.
Remember, the information on this website is for informational purposes only, and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.