Diclofenac cream is a non-steroid, anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) used to treat osteoarthritis and actinic keratosis. This cream reduces inflammation by inhibiting the enzyme cyclooxygenase, a key component in the production of prostaglandin, which causes inflammation. Side effects of diclofenac are heart attack, stroke, or damage to the stomach lining. Diclofenac cream rarely has any side effects due to its low concentration and lack of or reduced penetration into the blood stream.
The use of diclofenac depends on the concentration. A 1% concentration is typically used to decrease osteoarthritis joint pain in the feet, ankles, knees, elbows, wrists, and hands, but may not be adequate to control pain in other areas. A 3% concentration is used to treat actinic keratosis, skin lesions resulting from excessive sun exposure or repeated sun burns.
Diclofenac cream prevents inflammation by inhibiting the enzyme cyclooxygenase, an integral component in the production of prostaglandins, which are responsible for modulating the inflammatory response in tissue. Preventing the production of prostaglandins reduces the amount of tissue inflammation. It is not exactly known how diclofenac cream heals actinic keratosis, but elevated prostaglandins have been associated with actinic keratosis and sun burn. The prostaglandin-suppressing action of the cream may improve healing of the skin.
The side effects of diclofenac cream are rare because it is localized in its action and does not often penetrate the blood stream in large concentrations. Most doctors recommend that their patients be familiar with the side effects in case they are sensitive to the drug, the cream is abused, or used for a prolonged period. The most serious side effects of diclofenac are heart attacks or stroke. Patients should seek immediate medical help if they experience chest pain, difficulty breathing, disorientation, or dizziness. In addition, diclofenac and other prostaglandin-inhibiting drugs can weaken the stomach lining, causing tears in the stomach and producing symptoms such as black, bloody, or thick tar-like stool as well as vomit that looks like coffee grounds.
When first used, the cream should only be applied to one area, and the site of application should be observed for a short time for any signs of an allergic reaction, such as red, itchy skin. If an allergic reaction is observed, use of the cream should be stopped. The cream can make the skin sensitive to the sun, so prolonged direct exposure to the sun should be avoided following application. This cream is also not recommended for pregnant or nursing women.