Taking NSAIDs Safely
When you have a headache or muscle pain, you may reach for an over-the-counter remedy.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are a common choice. But even though
you can buy them without a prescription, that doesn’t mean they don't have risks.
Here’s what you need to know to use them safely.
What are NSAIDs?
NSAID stands for non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug. NSAIDs are a type of medicine
used to treat pain and inflammation. They can also reduce fever. Lower-dose versions
are available over-the-counter. Higher doses may be prescribed for chronic conditions
such as rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. The most common NSAIDs include:
How do NSAIDs work?
NSAIDs keep the body from using COX-1 and COX-2 enzymes. These enzymes make prostaglandins.
These are a group of fatty acids in the body. These fatty acids play a major part
in pain and inflammation.
What are their risks?
NSAIDs can cause bleeding in the stomach. This is more likely to occur if you take
higher doses for a long period of time. NSAIDs may also raise your risk for heart
attack, heart failure, and stroke. The FDA requires that the packaging of NSAIDs have
a warning about this serious health risk. People who already have heart disease are
most at risk. But anyone who takes NSAIDs is at risk. NSAIDs can also cause kidney
damage. If you have chronic kidney disease, only use NSAIDs if your healthcare provider
says it’s OK. Use the lowest dose for the shortest amount of time possible. If you
need to use NSAIDs for a long time, do so only with your healthcare provider's close
How can you protect yourself?
In general, over-the-counter NSAIDs are safe to ease occasional aches and pains. But
you still need to be smart about using them. Follow these tips to minimize any side
effects or health risks:
Talk with your healthcare provider or pharmacist first. Tell him or her about all the prescription and over-the-counter medicines you take.
He or she can tell you if an NSAID is not safe for you. NSAIDs can interact with some
medicines. These include medicines used to treat depression and high blood pressure.
Keep track of your doses and timing. Take only the advised amount for the shortest period of time needed. Higher doses
can make health problems more likely. Tell your healthcare provider if you take the
medicine for 10 days or more.
Read all medicine labels. Don't take 2 or more over-the-counter products with the same active ingredient. You’re
more likely to have side effects or an overdose. Read the Drug Facts label first before
taking more than 1 over-the-counter medicine. Note that some cough and cold medicines
Don't take NSAIDs if you take daily aspirin. NSAIDs can stop the helpful effects of aspirin.
Watch for signs of problems. These can include stomach problems, kidney problems, high blood pressure, heart issues,