Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are primarily pain relievers. As the name implies, these medicines are not steroids or corticosteroids, such as prednisone, which is also used to treat inflammatory response. NSAIDS are thought to be easier on the body than steroids for many people, and can be taken for longer periods of time because they tend to have fewer side effects. The drugs are also anti-inflammatory, which means they work to reduce inflammation that can result in pain.
The way NSAIDs work to reduce inflammation is to inhibit certain enzymes called cyclooxygenase enzymes. These play a primary role in the way inflammatory response works in the body. By inhibiting these enzymes, which are also called COX 1 and COX 2, reduction in inflammation may be achieved, reducing discomfort, which is called an analgesic function. NSAIDS have other purposes and may be antipyretic or fever reducing, too.
There are numerous nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs available. A few types can be found over the counter, such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen sodium. Others are only available by prescription, like celecoxib (Celebrex®), and there are prescription strength versions of some over-the-counter drugs. With many temporary conditions like a bad headache, a swollen ankle, menstrual cramping or others, doctors simply recommend an over-the-counter formulation, but they might suggest a higher than recommended dose if a condition warrants it. It should be noted that celecoxib only blocks COX 2 and thus may be slightly gentler on the stomach, though not always.
There can be many advantages to using nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. As previously noted, they are not steroids and are thus free of some very serious side effects associated with steroid use. These drugs are also not opiates like codeine or hydrocodone, so they are not addictive and are unlikely to cause symptoms of drowsiness, dizziness, or sleepiness that could be associated with opiate use.
In spite of their benefits, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs also have disadvantages. They can be extremely irritating to the stomach because inhibition of COX 1 results in changes to the stomach lining. Ulceration of the stomach can occur in serious cases, although an stomach upset, nausea, and indigestion are more common. Greater damage to the intestines may accrue with long-term use, and people generally are advised not to use NSAIDs for longer than a week or two at most without the guidance of a medical professional.
It's important not to combine nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. When people are taking any form of blood thinner, they should get advice prior to using an NSAID. Aspirin or ibuprofen shouldn't be combined with anticoagulant drugs, like warfarin, or antiplatelet drugs, unless a physician specifically recommends the combination. Some people can also have sensitivity reactions to NSAIDs; if they are sensitive to one drug in the group, they may be sensitive to all.