5 Risks Associated with Anti-Inflammatory Medications
What are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs?
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are available in over-the-counter and prescription strength. NSAIDs belong to the drug class used as an analgesic (pain reliever), anti-inflammatory, and antipyretic (fever reducer). The most common over-the-counter NSAIDs include ibuprofen, naproxen, ketoprofen, and high-dose aspirin. Prescription strength NSAIDs include nabumetone, etodolac, naproxen, diclofenac, etc.
NSAIDs are proven to have fewer side effects compared to corticosteroids, which are also anti-inflammatory drugs. They should not be taken longer than recommended or in higher dosages, as serious side effects may occur.
Anti-inflammatory medications should not be taken for more than 10 days without consulting a health care professional. Serious risks associated with anti-inflammatory medications include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Heart attack or stroke
Blood pressure may rise with use of NSAIDs. Anyone who is at risk for or has cardiovascular disease (coronary artery disease), high blood pressure, diabetes, or high cholesterol may have an increased risk of a heart attack or stroke when taking a NSAID. Those who smoke are also at a higher risk.
This includes individuals who have previously experienced a heart attack, angina (chest pain due to narrowed arteries), procedures for widening the clogged arteries, a stroke, or narrowed arteries to the brain. As a result, people who have, or are at a high risk for, coronary artery disease are generally advised to avoid NSAIDs. Heart-related risks can occur within the first few weeks of taking these medications. Anti-inflammatory medications should not be used immediately before or after heart bypass surgery. Suddenly stopping NSAIDs after taking them daily for long periods of time can also cause heart problems.
- Kidney damage
The use of NSAIDs, even for a brief time, can cause damage to the kidneys. This is especially true for people with underlying kidney disease. The amount of blood arriving to the kidneys can be reduced, which tends to slow down kidney functions. High blood pressure, retention of water and salt, and imbalances of electrolytes can occur when taking anti-inflammatory medicine.
Blood pressure and kidney function should be monitored yearly; however, it may be necessary to be checked more frequently when taking NSAIDs, depending on a person’s medical conditions. Kidney failure can result in rare cases. Avoid taking NSAIDs without consulting a health care professional if kidney function is impaired.
- Gastrointestinal or bowel problems
Short-term use of NSAIDs can lead to an upset stomach (dyspepsia). Long-term use of NSAIDs, especially at high doses, can lead to peptic ulcer disease, bleeding in the stomach, or bowel concerns.
Stomach or bowel issues due to NSAIDs are increased for those who are older, have a previous history of stomach bleeding or ulcers, are taking blood thinners, or are on multiple prescriptions. Drinking three or more alcoholic beverages each day while taking this medication also increases the risk.
- Allergic reaction
NSAIDs, along with other medications, pose a risk of an allergic reaction. Symptoms of an allergic reaction include face swelling, difficulty breathing or wheezing, hives or rash, blisters, or redness of the face.
Discontinue use and seek immediate medical attention if trouble breathing occurs. A health care professional should be contacted if non-life threatening symptoms develop.
- Pregnancy and reproductive risks
Long-term use of anti-inflammatory medications is associated with infertility. During the last half of pregnancy, NSAIDs are not recommended due to a rare, but serious, kidney problem to an unborn or newborn baby.
Anti-inflammatory drugs can lead to low levels of amniotic fluid, which protects a baby during pregnancy. They can also increase the risk of miscarriage if used during the first half of pregnancy. Women who are pregnant should consult with a health care professional prior to taking NSAIDs or other medications.