Does Arthrotec (diclofenac and misoprostol) cause side effects?

Arthrotec (diclofenac and misoprostol) is a combination of a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) used to treat inflammation, pain, and fever and a synthetic (man-made) prostaglandin that helps protect the stomach from NSAIDs

Diclofenac, like other NSAIDs works by inhibiting the production of prostaglandins. Prostaglandins are a family of chemicals produced by the cells of the body that promote inflammation, pain, and fever. In addition, they support the function of platelets that are necessary for the clotting of blood, and protect the lining of the stomach from the damaging effects of acid. 

Prostaglandins are produced by the enzyme cyclooxygenase (Cox). There actually are two Cox enzymes, Cox-1 and Cox-2. Both enzymes produce prostaglandins that promote inflammation, pain, and fever. However, only Cox-1 produces prostaglandins that support platelets and protect the stomach. Diclofenac blocks both Cox enzymes and reduces prostaglandins throughout the body. 

As a consequence, ongoing inflammation, pain, and fever are reduced. Since prostaglandins that protect the stomach and support platelets and blood clotting also are reduced, NSAIDs can cause ulcers in the stomach and promote bleeding. 

Misoprostol is a synthetic prostaglandin that stimulates secretion of mucus in the gastrointestinal tract. Mucus protects the lining of the stomach from acid. Misoprostol has been shown to reduce the frequency of ulcers of the stomach caused by NSAIDs.

Common side effects of Arthrotec include

Serious side effects of Arthrotec include

Drug interactions of Arthrotec include blood thinners (anticoagulants), such as warfarin, because of the increased risk of bleeding when combined with diclofenac.

  • Patients taking lithium can develop toxic blood levels of lithium because diclofenac may inhibit the elimination of lithium from the body by the kidney.
  • Side effects from methotrexate and cyclosporine also may be increased by diclofenac.
  • Diclofenac may reduce the effectiveness of blood pressure-lowering drugs.
  • Since prostaglandins are important in the control of blood pressure. Antacids reduce the absorption of misoprostol and may delay absorption of diclofenac.
  • Magnesium-containing antacids worsen misoprostol-associated diarrhea.
  • Combining NSAIDs with angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs) or angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors in patients who are elderly, volume-depleted (including those on diuretic therapy), or with poor kidney function may result in reduced kidney function, including kidney failure.
  • Diclofenac may increase blood levels of digoxin and lead to digoxin toxicity. 

Since misoprostol can cause abortions, Arthrotec should not be used by women who are pregnant. Women also should avoid pregnancy for one month or one menstrual cycle after discontinuing. 

Both drugs in Arthrotec are secreted in breast milk. Arthrotec is not recommended for use by breastfeeding mothers.

What are the important side effects of Arthrotec (diclofenac and misoprostol) ?

Arthrotec has the side effects of diclofenac and misoprostol. The most common side effects are:

Diarrhea and abdominal pain may resolve after 2-7 days. Magnesium containing antacids worsen diarrhea caused by misoprostol. Taking Arthrotec with food and avoiding antacids containing magnesium may reduce the occurrence of diarrhea.

Other important side effects include

  • gastrointestinal ulcers and bleeding;
  • liver dysfunction;
  • severe skin reactions,
  • allergic reactions, and
  • kidney failure.

Severe bronchospasms may occur in patients with aspirin-sensitive asthma. Like other NSAIDS, Arthrotec may cause heart attacks and strokes; accumulation of fluid and worsen heart failure; cause or worsen hypertension and kidney failure.

Arthrotec (diclofenac and misoprostol) side effects list for healthcare professionals

The following adverse reactions are discussed in greater detail in other sections of the labeling:

  • Cardiovascular Thrombotic Events
  • GI Bleeding, Ulceration and Perforation
  • Hepatotoxicity
  • Hypertension
  • Heart Failure and Edema
  • Renal Toxicity and Hyperkalemia
  • Anaphylactic Reactions
  • Serious Skin Reactions
  • Hematologic Toxicity

Clinical Trials Experience

Because clinical trials are conducted under widely varying conditions, adverse reaction rates observed in the clinical trials of a drug cannot be directly compared to rates in the clinical trials of another drug and may not reflect the rates observed in practice.

Adverse reaction information for Arthrotec is derived from Phase III multinational controlled clinical trials in over 2,000 patients receiving Arthrotec 50 or Arthrotec 75, as well as from blinded, controlled trials of diclofenac delayed-release tablets and misoprostol tablets.


GI disorders had the highest reported incidence of adverse events for patients receiving Arthrotec. These events were generally minor, but led to discontinuation of therapy in 9% of patients on Arthrotec and 5% of patients on diclofenac. For GI ulcer rates, see prescribing information.

GI disorderArthrotecDiclofenac
Abdominal pain21%15%

  • Arthrotec can cause more abdominal pain, diarrhea, and other GI symptoms than diclofenac alone.
  • Diarrhea and abdominal pain developed early in the course of therapy, and were usually self-limited (resolved after 2 to 7 days).
  • Rare instances of profound diarrhea leading to severe dehydration have been reported in patients receiving misoprostol.
  • Patients with an underlying condition such as inflammatory bowel disease, or those in whom dehydration, were it to occur, would be dangerous, should be monitored carefully if Arthrotec is prescribed.
  • The incidence of diarrhea can be minimized by administering Arthrotec with food and by avoiding coadministration with magnesium-containing antacids.
  • Gynecological disorders previously reported with misoprostol use have also been reported for women receiving Arthrotec (see below). Postmenopausal vaginal bleeding may be related to administration of Arthrotec. If it occurs, diagnostic workup should be undertaken to rule out gynecological pathology.
  • Overall, there were no significant differences in the safety profile of Arthrotec in over 500 patients 65 years of age or older compared with younger patients.
  • Other adverse experiences reported occasionally with Arthrotec, diclofenac or other NSAIDs, or misoprostol are:

Body as a whole:

Central and peripheral nervous system


Female reproductive disorders

Hemic and lymphatic system

  • epistaxis,
  • leukopenia,
  • melena,
  • purpura,
  • decreased hematocrit.

Metabolic and nutritional

Musculoskeletal system


Respiratory system

Skin and appendages

Special senses

Renal and urinary disorders


Postmarketing Experience

The following adverse reactions have been identified during post approval of Arthrotec, diclofenac or misoprostol. Because these reactions are reported voluntarily from a population of uncertain size, it is not always possible to reliable estimate their frequency or establish a causal relationship to drug exposure.

Body as a whole

Cardiovascular system

Central and peripheral nervous system

Congenital, familial and genetic disorders


  • enteritis,
  • GI bleeding,
  • glossitis,
  • heartburn,
  • hematemesis,
  • hemorrhoids,
  • intestinal perforation, stomatitis and ulcerative stomatitis.

Female reproductive disorders

  • intermenstrual bleeding,
  • leukorrhea,
  • vaginitis,
  • uterine cramping,
  • uterine hemorrhage.

Hemic and lymphatic system


Liver and biliary system

Male reproductive disorders

Metabolic and nutritional

Pregnancy, puerperium and perinatal conditions

  • abnormal uterine contractions,
  • uterine rupture/perforation,
  • retained placenta,
  • amniotic fluid embolism,
  • incomplete abortion,
  • premature birth,
  • fetal death.


Reproductive system and breast disorders

Respiratory system

Skin and appendages

Special senses

Renal and urinary disorders

  • cystitis,
  • hematuria,
  • interstitial nephritis,
  • micturition frequency,
  • nephrotic syndrome,
  • oliguria,
  • papillary necrosis,
  • renal failure,
  • glomerulonephritis membranous,
  • glomerulonephritis minimal lesion,
  • glomerulohephritis.


What drugs interact with Arthrotec (diclofenac and misoprostol)?

See Table 1 for clinically significant drug interactions with diclofenac/misoprostol.

Table 1: Clinically Significant Drug Interactions with Diclofenac/Misoprostol

Drugs That Interfere with Hemostasis
Clinical Impact:
  • Diclofenac and anticoagulants such as warfarin have a synergistic effect on bleeding. The concomitant use of diclofenac and anticoagulants have an increased risk of serious bleeding compared to the use of either drug alone.
  • Serotonin release by platelets plays an important role in hemostasis. Case-control and cohort epidemiological studies showed that concomitant use of drugs that interfere with serotonin reuptake and an NSAID may potentiate the risk of bleeding more than an NSAID alone.
Intervention: Monitor patients with concomitant use of Arthrotec with anticoagulants (e.g., warfarin), antiplatelet agents (e.g., aspirin), selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), and serotonin norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) for signs of bleeding.
Clinical Impact: Controlled clinical studies showed that the concomitant use of NSAIDs and analgesic doses of aspirin does not produce any greater therapeutic effect than the use of NSAIDs alone. In a clinical study, the concomitant use of an NSAID and aspirin was associated with a significantly increased incidence of GI adverse reactions as compared to use of the NSAID alone.
Intervention: Concomitant use of Arthrotec and analgesic doses of aspirin is not generally recommended because of the increased risk of bleeding.
Arthrotec is not a substitute for low dose aspirin for cardiovascular protection.
ACE Inhibitors, Angiotensin Receptor Blockers, and Beta-Blockers
Clinical Impact:
  • NSAIDs may diminish the antihypertensive effect of angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs), or beta-blockers (including propranolol).
  • In patients who are elderly, volume-depleted (including those on diuretic therapy), or have renal impairment, co-administration of an NSAID with ACE inhibitors or ARBs may result in deterioration of renal function, including possible acute renal failure. These effects are usually reversible.
  • The concomitant administration of these drugs should be done with caution. Patients should be adequately hydrated and the clinical need to monitor the renal function should be assessed at the beginning of the concomitant treatment and periodically thereafter.
  • During concomitant use of Arthrotec and ACE-inhibitors, ARBs, or beta-blockers, monitor blood pressure to ensure that the desired blood pressure is obtained.
  • During concomitant use of Arthrotec and ACE-inhibitors or ARBs in patients who are elderly, volume-depleted, or have impaired renal function, monitor for signs of worsening renal function.
Clinical Impact:Clinical studies, as well as post-marketing observations, showed that NSAIDs reduced the natriuretic effect of loop diuretics (e.g., furosemide) and thiazide diuretics in some patients. This effect has been attributed to the NSAID inhibition of renal prostaglandin synthesis.
Intervention: During concomitant use of Arthrotec with diuretics, observe patients for signs of worsening renal function, in addition to assuring diuretic efficacy including antihypertensive effects.
Clinical Impact:The concomitant use of diclofenac with digoxin has been reported to increase the serum concentration and prolong the half-life of digoxin.
Intervention:During concomitant use of Arthrotec and digoxin, monitor serum digoxin levels.
Clinical Impact:NSAIDs have produced elevations in plasma lithium levels and reductions in renal lithium clearance. The mean minimum lithium concentration increased 15%, and the renal clearance decreased by approximately 20%. This effect has been attributed to NSAID inhibition of renal prostaglandin synthesis.
Intervention:During concomitant use of Arthrotec and lithium, monitor patients for signs of lithium toxicity.
Clinical Impact:Concomitant use of NSAIDs and methotrexate may increase the risk for methotrexate toxicity (e.g., neutropenia, thrombocytopenia, renal dysfunction).
Intervention:During concomitant use of Arthrotec and methotrexate, monitor patients for methotrexate toxicity.
Clinical Impact:Concomitant use of diclofenac and cyclosporine may increase cyclosporine’s nephrotoxicity.
Intervention:During concomitant use of Arthrotec and cyclosporine, monitor patients for signs of worsening renal function.
NSAIDs and Salicylates
Clinical Impact: Concomitant use of diclofenac with other NSAIDs or salicylates (e.g., diflunisal, salsalate) increases the risk of GI toxicity, with little or no increase in efficacy.
Intervention:The concomitant use of Arthrotec with other NSAIDs or salicylates is not recommended.
Clinical Impact:Concomitant use of diclofenac and pemetrexed may increase the risk of pemetrexed-associated myelosuppression, renal, and GI toxicity (see the pemetrexed prescribing information).
Intervention:During concomitant use of Arthrotec and pemetrexed, in patients with renal impairment whose creatinine clearance ranges from 45 to 79 mL/min, monitor for myelosuppression, renal and GI toxicity.
NSAIDs with short elimination half-lives (e.g., diclofenac, indomethacin) should be avoided for a period of two days before, the day of, and two days following administration of pemetrexed.
In the absence of data regarding potential interaction between pemetrexed and NSAIDs with longer half-lives (e.g., meloxicam, nabumetone), patients taking these NSAIDs should interrupt dosing for at least five days before, the day of, and two days following pemetrexed administration.
Clinical Impact:Antacids reduce the bioavailability of misoprostol acid. Antacids may also delay absorption of diclofenac. Magnesium-containing antacids exacerbate misoprostol-associated diarrhea.
Intervention:Concomitant use of Arthrotec and magnesium-containing antacids is not recommended.
Clinical Impact:Concomitant use of corticosteroids with diclofenac may increase the risk of GI ulceration or bleeding.
Intervention Monitor patients with concomitant use of Arthrotec with corticosteroids for signs of bleeding.
CYP2C9 Inhibitors or Inducers
Clinical Impact: Diclofenac is metabolized by cytochrome P450 enzymes, predominantly by CYP2C9. Co-administration of diclofenac with CYP2C9 inhibitors (e.g. voriconzaole) may enhance the exposure and toxicity of diclofenac whereas co-administration with CYP2C9 inducers (e.g., rifampin) may lead to compromised efficacy of diclofenac.
Intervention: CYP 2C9 inhibitors: When concomitant use of CYP2C9 inhibitors is necessary, the total daily dose of diclofenac should not exceed the lowest recommended dose of Arthrotec 50 twice daily.
CYP2C9 inducers: A dosage adjustment may be warranted when Arthrotec is administered with CYP2C9 inducers. Administer the separate products of misoprostol and diclofenac if a higher dose of diclofenac is deemed necessary.

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Medically Reviewed on 12/15/2020
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Professional side effects and drug interactions sections courtesy of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.