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What is Celebrex, and what is it used for?

If you’ve ever had a bad headache, toothache, or painful menstrual cramps, you know how difficult it can be to find pain relief. Celebrex is a prescription medication that reduces pain and inflammation. Let’s look at what Celebrex is, its side effects, drug interactions, proper dosages, and compare it to other pain relievers.    

What is Celebrex?

Celebrex is a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), specifically a COX-2 inhibitor, that treats pain and inflammation by reducing the hormones responsible for them. It commonly treats pain and inflammation from autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis, but those aren’t the only conditions it can help treat. Unlike some other NSAIDs, Celebrex is not available over-the-counter: A doctor must prescribe it. This is because it’s a potent medication for more severe pain and inflammation. Cox-2 inhibitors avoid the mechanism that has the potential to cause stomach ulceration with long-term use, whereas traditional NSAIDs may cause ulcers and other stomach issues with long-term use.

Celebrex is the brand name of the generic medication celecoxib, which is manufactured by the pharmaceutical company Pfizer. Celebrex and celecoxib work the same way and are equally effective. The difference between brand-name and generic medications is that brand names are often more expensive than generics. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved both versions as pain relievers and inflammation reducers. They’re not narcotics, nor do they work as muscle relaxers.     

Celebrex is an expensive medication because it wasn’t available as a generic medication until 2014, and because of the mere fact that it’s a brand name. Without insurance, a month’s supply of Celebrex costs $360 on average. Celebrex coupons can help people save money on Celebrex at participating pharmacies. Medicare typically doesn’t cover Celebrex, but it does provide coverage for celecoxib.  

Celebrex’s safety has been in question for decades, and at one point, the FDA almost pulled it off the market. After requiring Pfizer to do a post-market study, the FDA allowed the drug to stay on the market, but the safety label is now more detailed to accurately reflect Celebrex side effects.   

What is Celebrex used for?

Celebrex is used to treat the following health conditions: 

  • Rheumatoid arthritis  
  • Osteoarthritis 
  • Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis 
  • Ankylosing spondylitis
  • Menstrual pain
  • Acute pain 
  • Primary dysmenorrhea 

In addition to treating these conditions, Celebrex is an effective anti-inflammatory medication that can help treat back pain, stiffness, joint pain, and nerve pain. 

It should start working to reduce pain and inflammation relatively quickly, but the amount of time it takes Celebrex to begin working will vary from person to person. 

Celebrex dosages

Available as an oral capsule, Celebrex comes in different strengths of 50 mg, 100 mg, 200 mg, and 400 mg. Take Celebrex as needed for injuries or menstrual pain, but sometimes it needs to be taken regularly. Here are the standard doses of Celebrex for different medical conditions:   

Osteoarthritis  Rheumatoid arthritis Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis  Ankylosing spondylitis Primary dysmenorrhea Pain from injury/menstruation
200 mg taken once daily or 100 mg taken twice daily  100-200 mg taken twice daily 50 mg taken twice daily for kids ≥10 kg to ≤25 kg or 100 mg taken twice daily for kids >25 kg  200 mg taken once daily or 100 mg taken twice daily  400 mg initially, followed by an additional 200 mg dose if needed on the first day. On subsequent days, 200 mg twice daily as needed 200 mg taken twice daily 

Celebrex can be taken in the morning or at night, with or without food, but taking it with food can reduce the chance of getting an upset stomach. If you have trouble swallowing capsules whole, you can try opening the capsule and mixing it with a spoonful of applesauce.  

It’s best to avoid drinking alcohol or smoking while taking Celebrex. These substances can increase the risk of getting a stomach ulcer or stomach bleeding.  

If you miss a dose of Celebrex, it’s best to take the dose you missed as soon as you remember. If you remember you’ve missed a dose and it’s almost time to take your second dose of the day, then only take your second dose. This will help prevent accidental overdose, which could cause serious side effects.   

How to take Celebrex

Once Celebrex is ingested, it starts working to quickly relieve pain and inflammation, often after the first dose. Many people will feel relief from their symptoms in one or two days because Celebrex effects last up to 12 hours. If there’s no improvement in symptoms after taking Celebrex for two to three weeks, it may be time to talk with your doctor about taking a different medication.    

The amount of time someone needs to be on Celebrex will vary on a case-by-case basis. Some people may need to take Celebrex long term for conditions like arthritis, and some people might only need to take it for a few days for something like menstrual cramps.

“I don’t recommend taking Celebrex daily for more than a month,” says Farzin Kabaei, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at DOCS Spine and Orthopedics in Los Angeles. “If a patient needs to take it for 30 days or longer, I recommend annual bloodwork to check kidney function.” Dr. Kabaei also asks his patients to take no more than one 200 mg pill per day.   

Restrictions

Celebrex isn’t the right medication for everyone. There are currently no adequate and controlled studies of Celebrex in pregnant women, and many doctors avoid prescribing Celebrex during pregnancy because it may affect fetal health. Some reports show that Celebrex can pass from mothers to babies via breastfeeding, but how Celebrex affects infants isn’t completely understood. 

RELATED: What pain medications are safe to take while pregnant?

When it comes to kids, Celebrex is safe to take if prescribed by a doctor. On the other hand, elderly patients are the most at risk of experiencing side effects from Celebrex.     

Interactions

Taking Celebrex at the same time as certain other medications can cause adverse effects or new side effects. Celebrex shouldn’t be taken at the same time as these medications unless it’s been approved by a doctor: 

  • Corticosteroids
  • CYP2D6 substrates
  • CYP2C9 inhibitors or inducers
  • Pemetrexed
  • NSAIDs
  • Salicylates
  • Cyclosporine
  • Methotrexate
  • Lithium
  • Digoxin
  • Diuretics
  • Aspirin
  • ACE inhibitors
  • Beta blockers
  • Angiotensin receptor blockers

Taking a complete list of all the medications and supplements you’re taking with you to your doctor will help him or her determine if Celebrex is the best choice for you.   

What are the side effects of Celebrex?

As with any medication, taking Celebrex comes with the potential for side effects. Here are some of the most common side effects that someone might experience from taking Celebrex:

  • Body aches
  • Gas
  • Nausea
  • Stomachache
  • Diarrhea
  • Swelling of the hands or feet
  • Dizziness
  • Trouble sleeping  
  • Constipation 
  • Indigestion 
  • Heartburn
  • Drowsiness 

Serious side effects

More serious side effects of Celebrex include hair loss, unexplained weight gain, skin reactions, skin rashes, and leg cramps. If you’re taking Celebrex and start to have any difficulty breathing, swelling of the face, neck, throat, or hives, you should immediately seek medical attention. These are symptoms of an allergic reaction, which can be life-threatening. 

Because Celebrex is an NSAID, it comes with a black box warning about serious cardiovascular thrombotic events. Taking Celebrex increases the risk of heart attacks, heart disease, strokes, blood clots, and high blood pressure. 

Gastrointestinal adverse events like bleeding, ulceration, and perforation of the stomach or intestines are also possible. Celebrex doesn’t interfere with the function of blood platelets and, as a result, doesn’t reduce blood clotting. Elderly patients and those with a prior history of cardiovascular and GI issues are the most at risk for experiencing these Celebrex side effects. 

If you’re taking Celebrex and start to have chest pain, slurred speech, sudden numbness or weakness on one side of the body, leg swelling, or abdominal pain, you should seek emergency medical help right away. These are signs of a heart attack or stroke, which can be life-threatening. Celebrex can increase your risk of having a heart attack or stroke even if you don’t have any risk factors, so it’s always a good idea to know their warning signs.  

High-risk groups for side effects

People with the following conditions should talk to their healthcare provider before taking Celebrex, as it may worsen their health conditions or cause serious side effects: 

  • Those with hypersensitivity to Celebrex or NSAIDs 
  • People who have had coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) surgery 
  • Those who have had allergic reactions to sulfonamides (sulfa) 
  • People with a history of asthma, urticaria, or those who have had allergic reactions to NSAIDs  
  • Patients with stomach bleeding or intestinal bleeding 
  • People with kidney or heart problems 

Long-term use of NSAIDs like Celebrex may come with an increased risk of heart attacks, strokes, heart failure, infertility, liver problems, and kidney problems. Even though the FDA emphasized its warning that NSAIDs like Celebrex increase heart attack and stroke risk, this doesn’t mean everyone should avoid the medication. For some people, the benefits of taking Celebrex will outweigh potential side effects. Medical professionals can help you determine if long-term use of Celebrex is right for you.         

How to avoid side effects

To avoid side effects from Celebrex, take the dose that your doctor recommended for you. Skipping doses or taking extra doses because you have a lot of pain can cause side effects, and overdosing is potentially life-threatening. If you think you may have overdosed on Celebrex, you should call the Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222 and seek medical attention as soon as possible symptoms of overdose include nausea, severe stomach pain, lethargy, tiredness, and vomit that looks like coffee grounds.    

Celebrex should be stored at room temperature away from direct sunlight, moisture, and heat. Improperly stored or expired Celebrex can change chemically, affecting how the medication works and causing side effects if ingested. Safely dispose of Celebrex if it’s expired. Check the medication guide for more safety drug information.

Are there alternatives to Celebrex?

Some people may not be able to take Celebrex if they’re allergic to it, if they have an underlying medication condition that prevents them from taking it, or if it interferes with medications they’re taking. The good news is that other treatment options can reduce pain and inflammation. Here are some of the most common alternatives to Celebrex:     

Celebrex alternatives
Drug name Uses Pros and cons SingleCare coupon Medication comparison
Mobic (meloxicam)
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
Meloxicam may be preferred over Celebrex because it only has to be taken once per day. However, Celebrex may be better for ankylosing spondylitis or menstrual cramps. Get coupon Learn more
Aleve (naproxen)
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Ankylosing spondylitis
  • Tendonitis
  • Gout
  • Menstrual cramps
It’s available to purchase OTC in lower doses, but a doctor must prescribe higher doses. However, Naproxen is more likely to cause stomach ulcers than Celebrex is. Get coupon Learn more
Ibuprofen
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Mild to moderate pain
  • Primary dysmenorrhea
Ibuprofen is available to purchase OTC, but it has a higher risk of causing stomach ulcers and stomach problems than Celebrex does.  Get coupon Learn more
Voltaren (diclofenac sodium)
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Ankylosing spondylitis
Voltaren may have an increased risk of gastrointestinal and cardiovascular side effects in comparison to Celebrex.   Get coupon Learn more

If you are considering stopping Celebrex cold turkey, it’s best to talk with your doctor beforehand, especially if you’re taking it daily. Abruptly stopping medication can cause side effects to worsen and even result in new side effects. It’s a good rule of thumb to always seek medical advice before stopping or starting any medication to make sure you’re doing what’s best for your body.