Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are medications that relieve or reduce pain. The most popular examples of drugs in this group are aspirin and ibuprofen.
NSAIDs come under the wider definition of non-opioid analgesics. Doctors typically use NSAIDs rather than opioid pain relievers, such as morphine, to treat less severe pain.
This article discusses NSAIDs in more detail, including how they work, their uses, and the precautions that people should take when using them.
The immune system responds to infection and injury with inflammation. Noticeable signs include heat, skin discoloration, swelling, and pain.
The body receives pain signals from nerve receptors when inflammation occurs. These signals result from complex responses and interactions between cells and chemicals in the body.
Anti-inflammatory drugs reduce inflammation, minimizing its direct effect on pain-nerve stimulation and sensitivity, as well as decreasing the resulting inflammatory heat and swelling. In this way, NSAIDs help relieve pain.
Examples of NSAIDs
Over-the-counter (OTC) NSAIDs include:
- naproxen sodium
Prescription NSAIDs include:
- oxaprozin (Daypro)
- etodolac (Lodine)
- indomethacin (Indocin)
- naproxen (Naprosyn)
- nabumetone (Relafen)
- diclofenac (Cataflam)
- naproxen/esomeprazole (Vimovo)
NSAIDs are a broad group of non-opioid analgesic drugs. Although their chemical structures are different, they have several effects in common:
- reducing high temperature and fever
- decreasing inflammation
- relieving pain
NSAIDs work by
NSAIDs also block an enzyme called cyclooxygenase (COX), which supports the reactions that produce prostaglandins.
By blocking COX, NSAIDs interfere with the function of platelets — cells in the blood that play a crucial role in blood clotting. As a result, these medications have anti-clotting properties.
People typically use NSAIDs to relieve three symptoms that occur in a range of conditions:
- high temperature or fever
It is common to use NSAIDs to ease minor and short-term inflammation and pain. Some conditions that may cause temporary pain include:
- cold or flu
- period pain
- joint or bone injuries, sprains, and strains
- muscle or joint complaints
If any of these problems become chronic, a person should consider the safety of using NSAIDs.
Healthcare professionals previously also recommended that adults aged 50–70 years with an increased risk of cardiovascular health issues take low doses of aspirin to help prevent artery disease that can lead to heart attack and stroke. However, experts now believe that the health risks of taking this drug every day outweigh the benefits, so they no longer advise daily aspirin for most people.
Using NSAIDs for cold and flu
Many people take NSAIDs to treat the symptoms of the common cold. However, although these drugs relieve some of the symptoms, such as fever and pain, they neither kill the virus nor improve the course of the illness.
Evidence shows that NSAIDs tend to help more with bodily pain and throat irritation and less with respiratory symptoms such as coughing and sneezing.
People thinking about taking NSAIDs may wish to consider a few precautions.
For instance, it is best to limit or avoid alcohol while using NSAIDs, as this combination of drugs can irritate the gut and increase the risk of internal stomach bleeding.
It is also important not to mix more than one kind of NSAID and to tell a doctor before combining an NSAID with any other medicine, as this can
Other people who may need to avoid these drugs or take them with medical guidance include those who:
Anyone who takes NSAIDs may experience some side effects.
Serious side effects are less common than mild ones, and the likelihood of any side effect varies among individuals. People taking drugs in high dosages or over a more extended term are more likely to have side effects.
Prescription NSAIDs are generally more effective in relieving pain, particularly intense pain, than OTC NSAIDs. However, they are more likely to cause side effects.
Less severe side effects that some people experience include:
- indigestion and other gut complaints
Rare adverse events associated with NSAIDs include problems with:
- fluid retention
- the kidneys
- the liver
- the heart and circulation
NSAIDs can also
Peptic ulcers and gastrointestinal bleeding
Long-term or high-dosage use of NSAIDs could also lead to ulcers developing in the gut, known as peptic ulcers. The reason for this is that prostaglandins protect the stomach lining by helping it produce mucus. By reducing the number of prostaglandins in the body, NSAIDs leave the stomach open to the effects of stomach acid.
People who take NSAIDs for a long time or at high dosages should consult their doctor about ulcer prevention. One option is to take separate drugs that reduce acid production in the stomach. Using a different type of pain reliever is another option.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are non-opioid analgesic medications that people primarily use to treat mild symptoms of pain throughout the body.
People can get OTC versions or get a prescription from a doctor for stronger pain relievers. Many people take NSAIDs on an as-needed basis to treat mild conditions, such as headaches, fever from cold or flu, or period cramps.
However, people may wish to take certain precautions to reduce the risk of side effects. For instance, it is advisable to avoid alcohol and other medications when taking NSAIDs. People with risk factors for some health conditions and those who need to take other medications should speak with a doctor before taking NSAIDs.