What are NSAIDs?


You might have heard of NSAIDs from your doctor or your pharmacists. NSAIDs are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs that are commonly used to treat musculoskeletal disorders. They are mainly used relieve the following symptoms:

  • Pain. Pain caused by muscle strains, sprains, headaches, migraines, and dysmenorrhea (painful cramps during menstruation).
  • NSAIDs can also reduce body temperature.
  • Inflammation. NSAIDs are often used to relieve inflammation in conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.

The most common NSAIDs used are aspirin and ibuprofen. These drugs are usually found at your local pharmacy and can be purchased without a prescription. For NSAIDs that are stronger in strength, you will need a prescription from your doctor. It is important to discuss with your doctor if stronger NSAIDs is right for you.

How do they work?

You are probably wondering how they work. Let us tell you how NSAIDs help relieve your pain and fever.

Normally, your body produces a chemical called prostaglandins to heal damaged tissue, protect your stomach lining from acid and support blood clotting function of platelets. Prostaglandins are produced by an enzyme called cyclooxygenase (COX), which are made up of two types: COX I and COX II. Both COX enzymes are responsible for promoting inflammation and fever while the only COX I produces prostaglandins that protect the stomach lining and support platelets.

NSAIDs work by blocking COX I and COX II. Since the prostaglandins that protect the stomach lining and promote blood clotting are reduced, NSAIDs can potentially cause stomach ulcers and bleeding. It is recommended to take NSAIDs with food to avoid stomach irritation.

COX II inhibitors are similar to NSAIDs. They work by blocking COX II to relieve pain and inflammation. These drugs include celecoxib and rofecoxib.

What should I know before using NSAIDs?

Before taking NSAIDs you should know there are may be some risks with taking NSAIDs. You may increase your risk for a heart attack or stroke when your have heart disease and use for a long period of time.

NSAIDs should never be used right before or after a heart surgery called a “coronary artery bypass graft (CABG).”

NSAID medicines can cause ulcers and bleeding in the stomach and intestines at any time during treatment. Ulcers and bleeding can happen without warning symptoms and in some cases may cause death. Your risk for bleeding and having ulcers can increase if you:

  • Take with anticoagulants and corticosteroids;
  • Smoke;
  • Use NSAIDs for a long period of time;
  • Drink alcohol;
  • Older age;
  • Or have poor health.

NSAIDs are not recommended for the following people:

  • Those with a history of previous heart attack, stroke or heart failure.
  • People aged 75 or over.
  • People with diabetes.
  • Smokers.
  • People with high blood pressure.
  • People with asthma.
  • Are pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • Have a history of significant kidney disease.
  • Have a history of a significant liver disease.
  • Have active stomach ulcers (a sore in the lining of the stomach), or are at high risk of developing stomach ulcers.

If you have any of the conditions above, you should let your doctor know before using NSAIDs for your treatment.

NSAID medicines should only be instructed by your doctor, at the lowest dose possible for your treatment, and for the shortest time needed. For mild to moderate pain, you can take on an as needed basis.

Aspirin is a NSAID medicine but it does not increase the chance of a heart attack. Aspirin can cause bleeding in the brain, stomach, and intestines. Aspirin can also cause ulcers in the stomach and intestines.

Aspirin must not be given to children under 16 unless directed by a doctor. Also, some people with asthma may get attacks triggered by aspirin or NSAIDs. Please talk to your doctor before using.

What are the side effects of NSAIDs?

Like with any drug, there are some unwanted side effects you should know about. Some serious side effects of NSAIDs include:

  • Heart attack;
  • Stroke;
  • High blood pressure;
  • Heart failure from body swelling (fluid retention);
  • Kidney problems including kidney failure;
  • Bleeding and ulcers in the stomach and intestine;
  • Low red blood cells (anemia);
  • Life-threatening skin reactions;
  • Life-threatening allergic reactions;
  • Liver problems including liver failure;
  • Asthma attacks in people who have asthma.

Some mild side effects of NSAIDs may include:

  • Stomach pain;
  • Constipation;
  • Diarrhea;
  • Gas;
  • Heartburn;
  • Nausea;
  • Vomiting;
  • Dizziness.

When should you call your doctor?

You should stop taking your NSAID medicine and call your doctor right away if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Vomiting with blood;
  • There is blood in your stools (black and tarry);
  • Unusual weight gain;
  • Skin rash or blisters with fever;
  • Swelling of the arms and legs, hands, and feet.

NSAIDs are not for everyone. Please talk to your doctor or pharmacist to see if NSAIDs are right for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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