Inflammation is part of the body’s healing response to an intruder. When the body senses a pathogen, irritant, or foreign object that penetrates the skin, it starts an immune response to remove that intruder.

The best medication depends on the severity and cause of the inflammation. Various over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription options are available.

Sometimes, the body mistakes its own tissues and cells for something harmful. In these cases, the immune response it launches may lead to an autoimmune disease such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis. Inflammation may also contribute to a wide range of chronic inflammatory diseases, including heart disease and obesity.

This article provides more details on what inflammation is and discusses medications and other treatments for inflammation.

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Inflammation is the immune system’s response to potentially harmful intruders, such as damaged cells, pathogens, and foreign objects like thorns or needles.

It is a vital part of the body’s defenses and usually works to minimize infection and injury. Once the body heals, the inflammation resolves and the tissue returns to its natural state. However, in some cases, uncontrolled inflammation mistakenly attacks healthy cells and may contribute to inflammatory diseases.


Acute and chronic inflammation have different causes.


Acute inflammation follows an injury or infection and can appear within hours or almost immediately. If the inflammation does not resolve within 6 weeks, chronic inflammation may occur.

In acute inflammation, the body senses damage or harmful pathogens and the immune system responds by:

  • releasing white blood cells called neutrophils, which contain molecules that can defend against pathogens
  • accumulating plasma proteins in the tissues, which causes swelling
  • enlarging small blood vessels so that white blood cells and plasma proteins can quickly reach the injury or infection site


Chronic inflammation is slow and long-term. It can last several years.

This type of inflammation can occur if a person has:

  • persistent acute inflammation that does not resolve within 6 weeks and develops into a chronic condition
  • an autoimmune disorder, in which the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells
  • an auto-inflammatory disease, in which a person’s genetics affect the immune system’s response
  • sensitivity to an external trigger, which may cause an allergic reaction
  • long-term, low level exposure to an irritant, such as working with an industrial chemical


Symptoms in the affected area of inflammation include:

Common inflammatory conditions

Chronic inflammation has links to several diseases and could signal an underlying cause such as:

OTC and prescription options are available to treat inflammation. The best type of medication depends on the individual and the cause and severity of the inflammation. A person should consult a healthcare professional before taking any new medications.

OTC medication

OTC medication for inflammation may relieve swelling, pain, and other symptoms but will not address the cause.

Examples of OTC options include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) and acetaminophen.


OTC NSAIDs are effective for mild to moderate acute inflammation. These medications relieve pain.

Examples of NSAIDs include:

While NSAIDs are often effective and fast-acting, they come with several risks, especially if a person takes high doses over a long period. These risks include:


Acetaminophen also reduces pain and fever.

Side effects may include:

Prescription medication

A doctor may prescribe medication for severe inflammation or conditions that cause it.


Corticosteroids are highly effective at reducing inflammation because they are similar to cortisol, a hormone that a person’s adrenal glands produce. These medications suppress the activity of a person’s immune system.

A doctor may prescribe corticosteroids in any of the following forms:

  • topical cream or ointment
  • oral tablets, syrups, or capsules
  • eye drops
  • intravenous, administered directly into the veins
  • intramuscular, as a one-off injection
  • intra-articular, as an injection directly into a joint, combined with a local anesthetic

Doctors do not typically recommend corticosteroids for long-term treatment, as this can increase the risk of complications and side effects.

Side effects can include:

Prescription NSAIDs

A doctor may prescribe higher dose oral or topical NSAIDs. Doctors prescribe NSAIDs very often, especially for people over age 65. NSAIDS account for up to 10% of all medications doctors prescribe each year.

Prescription NSAIDs have a high rate of success in treating inflammation. However, the risks of side effects and complications increase with higher doses. A person may consider discussing potential side effects and complications with their doctor.

Alternative or complementary treatments may also help reduce or prevent inflammation.

Diet and exercise

Research has consistently found that people who are physically inactive and do not follow a balanced diet are more likely to experience inflammation. These people are also more likely to have a higher incidence of high blood pressure, increased abdominal obesity, and lower high-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels.

Eating a healthy, balanced diet, such as a Mediterranean diet, and engaging in a moderate level of exercise can reduce the incidence of high C-reactive protein (CRP) levels by 72%. The liver produces CRP in response to inflammation.


Research indicates that the following supplements may help reduce inflammation:

  • Magnesium: Research suggests that magnesium is a highly anti-inflammatory nutrient, and many people do not get enough of it in their diet.
  • Vitamins D, C, and E: These vitamins may have anti-inflammatory properties, and experts regard vitamin D in particular as being able to inhibit substances in the body that cause inflammation.
  • Curcumin: More research is necessary to determine how effective curcumin is at reducing inflammation. However, some studies have found that it is potentially beneficial in treating inflammatory digestive conditions and other inflammatory conditions, such as arthritis.
  • Omega-3s: Fish oil and algae oil supplements contain these fatty acids, which may help protect joints and reduce inflammation.

However, a person should consult a healthcare professional for advice before taking supplements, as they may interact with existing medications.

Inflammation is a natural bodily response to illness and injury. The immune system triggers the response when it detects a potentially harmful substance in the body, and inflammation helps heal the affected area.

In some cases, inflammation is uncontrolled and the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells. This may lead to autoimmune conditions.

The best medication for each individual depends on the cause and severity of the inflammation. OTC options include NSAIDs and acetaminophen. Prescription medications include high dose NSAIDs and corticosteroids. A person may also reduce inflammation by making lifestyle changes or taking certain supplements.

People should consult a healthcare professional before taking any new medications or supplements.