How Non-steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs May Help Relieve Pain


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 as serious side effects can occur.

How they work

NSAIDs block the effects of certain enzymes, especially Cox-1 and Cox-2. These enzymes are the primary source of prostaglandins. By blocking Cox-1 and Cox-2 enzymes, the body does not produce as much prostaglandins, which is a substance that sensitizes nerve endings and enhances pain during inflammation. NSAIDs reduce inflammation; therefore, they also decrease pain.


Typically, NSAIDs are inexpensive and easily accessible. They are beneficial for various concerns, which include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Headache
  • Back pain
  • Dental pain
  • Muscle discomfort
  • Gout
  • Bursitis
  • Stiffness and inflammation caused by inflammatory conditions, such as arthritis
  • Menstrual aches and pains
  • Pain following minor surgery
  • Injuries, such as sprains
  • Tenderness or soreness caused by activities

Common side effects

NSAIDs are intended for short-term use. Prolonged use and higher doses increase the risk of developing side effects. Common side effects of NSAIDs include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • Nausea
  • Dyspepsia (heartburn)
  • Kidney damage
  • High blood pressure
  • Diarrhea, bloating or gas
  • Constipation
  • Headache
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness

Seek immediate medical attention in cases of serious adverse effects, which include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Allergic reaction
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Fluid retention
  • Black or tarry stool
  • Severe stomach pain
  • Blurred vision
  • Blood in the urine or stool
  • Rash, hives or itching
  • Vomiting blood
  • Chest pain
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the eyes and skin)
  • Rapid heartbeat


Having a cardiovascular disease increases the risk of developing heart-related issues from taking NSAIDs. Frequent use and high dosages increase the risk of the following:

  • Heart attack
  • Heart failure
  • Stroke
  • Blood clots

There is an increased risk of developing stomach issues for people who:

  • Take NSAIDs frequently
  • Have a history of stomach ulcers
  • Take blood thinners or corticosteroids
  • Are age 65 or older
  • Are on multiple prescription
  • Drink three or more alcoholic beverages per day

NSAIDs can interact with some medications, while others may be less effective while taking NSAIDs. Examples of other medications that can cause an adverse reaction with NSAIDs include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Blood pressure medication
  • Aspirin
  • Warfarin
  • Cyclosporine
  • Lithium
  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
  • Diuretics

Check with a health care professional before giving NSAIDs to a child younger than 12 years old.

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