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Diclofenac gel (Voltaren)

Written by Healthwords's team of doctors and pharmacists based in UK | Updated: 21.02.2023 | 2 min read

Diclofenac sodium is an anti-inflammatory pain reliever. It comes in many different forms, including tablets, capsules, suppositories, and rub-on gel (Voltaren); however, the only formulation available over-the-counter is the rub-on gel.

This is the only anti-inflammatory rub-on formulation available over the counter. It can start to work within 20 - 30 minutes after applying, but full anti-inflammatory effects can take up to a couple of days once applied consistently. The gel can be applied 4 times a day.

Who is it for?

Diclofenac gel is specifically designed for painful osteoarthritis conditions, only in the hand, wrist, elbow, foot, ankle, or knee areas. Some people prefer a rub-on gel to a tablet.

How does it work?

Diclofenac gel is a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) from the same family as aspirin and naproxen. Because of this, ensure you aren't taking diclofenac alongside other anti-inflammatories, as this can upset your stomach.

Diclofenac's anti-inflammatory effect works by blocking the body's production of a substance called "prostaglandins," which are released in response to illness or injury. Prostaglandins can cause pain and inflammation to notify the person they are unwell. They can stop pain, inflammation, and even fever by stopping prostaglandin production.

Diclofenac also has a minor antiplatelet effect, which means it stops the blood from clotting. Seek the advice of a pharmacist or doctor if you are on any medications that may affect bleeding.

Should anyone avoid taking it?

Diclofenac is only for adults and should not be taken for more than 21 days in a row. Like all medications, don’t take it if you have previously had an allergic reaction to the medication, if you have severe kidney or liver problems, or if you have other medications or medical conditions where you would normally discuss with your doctor or pharmacist before starting something new.

If you are asthmatic and haven’t had anti-inflammatories before, they can sometimes cause an acute asthma attack, so they should be avoided. Do not take diclofenac if you are trying to get pregnant or are already pregnant, as there is not enough information about safety during pregnancy.

If you have a known stomach ulcer or inflammatory bowel disease, you should avoid taking diclofenac unless recommended by your doctor.

Are there any side-effects?

As with any medication, some people are bound to get some unwanted side effects. Some common symptoms include headaches, dizziness, nausea, and vomiting. Indigestion and heartburn are other common side effects, as diclofenac can irritate the lining of the stomach, especially when taken for more than a few days.

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