Meloxicam is a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) that is used in the treatment of various types of pain and inflammation. Sold under brand names like Mobic and Vivlodex, meloxicam was first approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2000. Unlike other over-the-counter NSAIDs such as ibuprofen and naproxen, meloxicam is only available with a doctor’s prescription. This is in part because some of the side effects of taking the drug, particularly over the long term, are potentially more serious. One side effect that some people have reported is unexplained weight gain, but is it really a significant factor?
When is Meloxicam Prescribed?
Meloxicam and other NSAIDs are often prescribed or recommended in place of another category of pain medication: corticosteroids. Corticosteroids are primarily prescribed for inflammation, and they also tend to have more side effects and can become habit-forming. Meloxicam can also potentially be abused, but it is generally a less intense alternative that overall has fewer adverse effects. Meloxicam is a common choice, with nearly 20 million prescriptions every year. It is available in pill form and by injection into a vein.
The standard use for meloxicam is to relieve the symptoms related to arthritis, a disorder that involves problems in the lining of the joints; the two most common types are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. The medication relieves inflammation, pain, tenderness, swelling, and stiffness related to the disorder, and it can help patients be able to move more freely. It is also sometimes prescribed for lower back pain and ankylosing spondylitis, but that usage is less frequent. In recent years, research has indicated that meloxicam may also be useful for treating pain that follows some types of surgery.
How Does Meloxicam Work?
The basic function of meloxicam is similar to other NSAIDs like aspirin or ibuprofen. It works by blocking the function of an enzyme called cyclooxygenase (COX) that is found in cells of many tissues around the body. Cyclooxygenase comes in two types; COX-1 is most notably found in cells in the stomach lining, while COX-2 is found in blood vessels. Under normal circumstances, cyclooxygenase produces compounds called prostaglandins that are involved in the body’s inflammatory response. By blocking cyclooxygenase pathways, meloxicam indirectly inhibits these inflammatory responses and brings relief for any related symptoms.
With both meloxicam and other NSAIDs, there is a limit to the amount of the medication that can be taken at one time. At low doses, meloxicam is able to only inhibit COX-2; while this technically has an effect all over the body, it is the enzyme located in the cells of blood vessels that contributes to the vasodilation effect that leads to inflammation reduction. It does this without affecting the COX-1 enzyme in the stomach lining and other areas of the digestive tract. At higher doses, however, the COX-2 enzyme is also blocked, and this can lead to bleeding and irritation in the stomach lining.
Side Effects of Meloxicam
The side effects of meloxicam are possible regardless of how much is taken, but they are more likely if the dose is higher. One study showed that only 1 in 3000 people had significant side effects when taking a low dose of 7.5 milligrams; another study showed the chances of side effects was six times higher when the dose was bumped up to 15 milligrams. More research needs to be done on the long term effects, but there are some common side effects that can happen to patients taking meloxicam:
indigestion or gas
changes to appetite or taste
tingling sensations throughout the body
minor hair loss
minor difficulty hearing
dizziness or lightheadedness
drowsiness or fatigue
In addition to the physical symptoms listed above, there have also been some psychological symptoms noted in some patients. Examples include anxiety, depression, irritability, lack of concentration, difficulty sleeping, or a sense of confusion. Taking meloxicam also comes with the possibility of more serious side effects that could be an indicator of other issues like heart failure or liver problems. The symptoms listed below are less common but are considered serious and require immediate medical attention:
chest pain or shortness of breath
skin rash, hives, swelling, or other signs of an allergic reaction
coughing up blood
vomit that looks like coffee grounds
yellowing skin (jaundice)
swelling or sudden weight gain
black or tarry stools
Does Meloxicam Cause Weight Gain?
Gradual weight gain has not been commonly observed in patients taking meloxicam. This is partly because of the mechanism of action and partly because the medication is not intended to be taken on a long term basis. Meloxicam is similar to other NSAIDs in that way—long term use (generally longer than three months) is not recommended by doctors and can lead to stomach ulcers, renal failure, and a variety of gastrointestinal problems. There is also some evidence that long term use can increase the risk of a heart attack or stroke.
The real risk of weight gain related to taking meloxicam involves swelling. As noted earlier, the medication blocks the function of cyclooxygenase, an enzyme that triggers vasodilation. While this can help with inflammation in the short term, in the long term it can cause fluid retention and kidney problems. A person who is taking meloxicam and experiences weight gain is most likely experiencing edema and in the first stages of a much more serious problem developing. That is why it is important to speak with a healthcare provider as soon as possible if weight gain is detected while on the medication.
The Bottom Line
Though there are many medications that include unexplained weight gain as a side effect, it isn’t a common concern with meloxicam. Meloxicam is a valuable treatment for joint pain and inflammation associated with arthritis, and it can be a more powerful alternative to some other medications available. If you’re taking meloxicam and have noticed rapid weight gain, be sure to contact a healthcare professional right away to get checked out.
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