What Are NSAIDs? A Guide To Pain Relievers

By Ashley Henshaw. May 7th 2016

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, better known as NSAIDs, are common drugs most people are familiar with, and are used for a wide variety of ailments. These medications offer many benefits, but they do come with a few side effects as well. Read this article to learn more about what NSAIDs can be used for and how to get them.

Intro to NSAIDs

According to WebMD, NSAIDs are the most commonly used pain relief medicine in the world. They are often utilized by people with arthritis, headaches, sprains and other ailments. However, pain relief is only the beginning when it comes to what NSAIDs can do. Additionally, these drugs can also reduce swelling and lower a fever.

NSAIDs work by affecting the body chemically. They block the effects of enzymes that create prostaglandins - these are the chemicals that send pain signals to the brain, cause tissue to swell and create a fever. By reducing the amount of prostaglandins the body makes, NSAIDs are able to reduce swelling and ease the pain associated with a particular type of injury.

However, prostaglandins are also responsible for protecting the lining of the stomach and enhance the ability of platelets to clot blood. It is for this very reason that NSAIDs are sometimes associated with upset stomach or increased bleeding. Continue on to the "Side Effects" section below to learn more about other potential consequences of taking these types of drugs.

Types of NSAIDs

The most common over-the-counter versions of NSAIDs (along with examples of popular brand names) include:

  • Aspirin: Bayer, Excedrin
  • Ibuprofen: Advil, Motrin
  • Ketoprofen: Actron, Orudis
  • Naproxen: Aleve

There are also several brand name prescription NSAIDs that may be recommended by doctors for more serious issues. Popular examples of these brand names include Daypro, Lodine, Relafen, Voltaren, Naprosyn and Indocin.

Although most of these varieties of NSAIDs are taken orally, there are also some topical NSAID products as well. These have a few advantages, such as reducing some negative side effects commonly associated with ingested NSAIDs, and concentrating the drug on only the affected area. Talk to your doctor to find out whether topical or oral NSAIDs are right for you.

Common Uses

There is a very long list of conditions for which NSAIDs may be helpful since they can be used to reduce pain, swelling and fever. Some of the most common conditions that are treated with NSAIDs include:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Headaches or migraines
  • Postoperative pain
  • Tissue injuries (such as a sprain or strain)
  • Menstrual cramps

Because aspirin prevents the formation of blood clots, it can be utilized to reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes. However, it is very important to consult a doctor before beginning a regimen of aspirin for this purpose. Also, it's important to keep in mind that this specific use only applies to aspirin and not to all types of NSAIDs.

Side Effects

Despite their many health benefits, NSAIDs are associated with several unpleasant, and sometimes dangerous, side effects. The most common of these side effects include:

In some cases, individuals who take NSAIDs may develop more serious conditions, such as increased bleeding, stomach ulcers, swelling of the feet or ankles or ringing in the ears. This is more likely to occur for people who take NSAIDs very regularly or for the elderly. If any of these side effects occur, tell your doctor immediately.

If you've never taken NSAIDs before, take a very small dose to start out with. Some people - especially those with asthma - have a risk of being allergic to NSAIDs and may experience shortness of breath when taking NSAIDs.

To minimize the side effects associated with NSAIDs, take the minimum dosage needed to treat your condition. Also, do not combine NSAIDs with other drugs that have the same side effects. For example, don't combine NSAIDs with drugs like warfarin, which may also increase bleeding. Be aware that the complications associated with NSAIDs could worsen if you are a smoker, a heavy drinker, have high blood pressure or have a history of heart disease or gastrointestinal problems. If the side effects of NSAIDs become further complicated due to any of these conditions, consider asking your doctor about topical NSAIDs to see if these can reduce the side effects you experience.

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