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What are nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)?

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

Despite the fancy name, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are among the most commonly used medications in the world. Odds are, you have a bottle of them in your medicine cabinet. NSAIDs are pain relievers. As their name suggests, they work by lowering inflammation and snuffing out the pain that it causes. Your body produces inflammation at times to protect itself. However, inflammation can also cause all sorts of problems, including the pain and joint damage of osteoarthritis.

NSAIDs such as ibuprofen and naproxen are sold over-the-counter. Prescription-strengthNSAIDs are available too. Although they can be effective for managing pain and other symptoms, NSAIDs carry side effects, including stomach ulcers. An overdose or long-term overuse can also cause health problems. The risk of heart attack and stroke is also raised. NSAIDs should not be used during pregnancy without medical approval, as they raise the risk of problems including miscarriage and persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn. Always talk with your doctor about whether NSAIDs are right for you.

NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) include common over-the-counter drugs such as aspirin (Bayer, Bufferin and Excedrin), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin and Nuprin), and naproxen (Aleve). They relieve pain and inflammation by blocking an enzyme called cyclo-oxygenase (COX).

Dr. Akash Bajaj, MD
Pain Medicine Specialist

NSAIDs are one of the most commonly used classes of medications today. In essence, they are used to mitigate inflammatory processes. Inflammation is directly responsible for contributing to many different types of pain, including arthritis, fibromyalgia, headaches, low back pain , neck pain, joint pain, and acute spasm or strain to name a few.

Although quite effective and available relatively easily over the counter, it is of utmost importance to use these medications as directed. They can have the propensity to cause some serious side effects such as gastric of intestinal ulceration if over utilized.

Donna Hill Howes, RN
Family Practitioner

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) include aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), diclofenac, naproxen (Aleve) and other medications. These drugs are safer than opioid and narcotic pain medications. They are also less likely to be overused. Still, it is important to take them as directed and not to take more than the recommended dose. Aspirin is available in combination with other drugs.

Prescription NSAIDs include diclofenac (Voltaren), indomethacin (Indocin), and oxaprozin (Daypro). A topical form of diclofenac (Pennsaid, Voltaren) is also available with a prescription. It is applied to the skin over the joint, as a liquid or gel.

NSAIDs can have serious side effects on the digestive system and are usually not recommended for continuous use for more than 1 to 2 weeks. People taking them for longer periods, especially older people, usually take a drug to protect their stomach. Celecoxib (Celebrex) is a special type of NSAID that is less likely to harm the digestive system. It is sometimes prescribed for people who can't take other NSAIDs. But it is also not recommended for long-term treatment. 

This answer was adapted from Sharecare's award-winning AskMD app. Start a consultation now to find out what's causing your symptoms, learn how to manage a condition, or find a doctor. 

Debra Fulghum Bruce PhD
Healthcare Specialist

Other than aspirin, NSAIDs are the most heavily used drugs in the world. They are commonly used to treat back pain, neck pain, TMJ, carpal tunnel, injuries, headache, PMS, menstrual pain, dental pain, muscle pain, fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, inflammatory arthritis, and everyday aches and pains, among many. NSAIDS can be taken orally or as injections in the painful site. In some cases, these drugs are compounded by the pharmacist into topical creams, gels, and ointments that are applied directly to the inflamed joint. Applying the medication topically reduces systemic side effects.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.