What are Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
NSAIDs can be used as fever reducers.
NSAIDs can be used as fever reducers.

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.

Nonsteroidal drugs are primarily pain relievers and are considered easier on the body for some patients.
Nonsteroidal drugs are primarily pain relievers and are considered easier on the body for some patients.

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.

Ibuprofen is a commonly used type of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug.
Ibuprofen is a commonly used type of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug.

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.

Aspirin is considered to be a stronger NSAID than ibuprofen.
Aspirin is considered to be a stronger NSAID than ibuprofen.

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.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments

serenesurface

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are great. They work for different types of symptoms-- they can reduce pain, reduce swelling, help with headaches and allergies. Of course, it's important to use the right type in the right way.

SarahGen

@candyquilt-- You should ask your doctor about this.

It can be difficult to predict at what dose and duration an NSAID will cause stomach ulcers. But it is true that ulcers are one of the most common seen side effects of this group of medications.

You can reduce the risk of ulcers by taking the recommended dose or less, by not using it longer than two weeks, by taking the medication with food and by avoiding other NSAIDs and blood thinners. The article has already mentioned these points.

Keep in mind that there are also food items and supplements that can thin blood such as fish oil supplements and vitamin E. So it's important to be extra careful while you are on an NSAID treatment.

Those with history of stomach ulcers or those experiencing stomach acidity should not use these medications without doctor approval and supervision.

candyquilt

I have been taking an NSAID drug for tendinitis pain for a week now. My doctor said that I can use it until the pain goes away. But after reading the article, I'm worried about stomach ulcers.

I'm taking less than the daily recommended dose and I only take one pill per day. Am I at risk of developing an ulcer?

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    • NSAIDs can be used as fever reducers.
      By: JackF
      NSAIDs can be used as fever reducers.
    • Nonsteroidal drugs are primarily pain relievers and are considered easier on the body for some patients.
      By: candy1812
      Nonsteroidal drugs are primarily pain relievers and are considered easier on the body for some patients.
    • Ibuprofen is a commonly used type of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug.
      By: Geo Martinez
      Ibuprofen is a commonly used type of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug.
    • Aspirin is considered to be a stronger NSAID than ibuprofen.
      By: blueskies9
      Aspirin is considered to be a stronger NSAID than ibuprofen.