There are basically two different basic kinds of anti-inflammatory drugs, including those that use steroids and those that don't, and both these types have very different side effects. Even among the different categories, each specific drug can have unique side effects of its own. In general, the side effects of anti-inflammatory drugs that aren’t steroids include stomach irritation, cardiovascular problems, and rashes. Steroids can cause many more severe side effects, including vision problems, increased weight, emotional difficulties, and bone loss. Aspirin, which falls into the non-steroidal category, deserves special mention because of its potential to cause a disease, called Reyes syndrome, in children.
Some of the most commonly known side effects of anti-inflammatory drugs are the stomach problems caused by certain over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen. In reality, the irritation isn’t actually coming from the drugs, but the drugs help facilitate it by reducing the stomach's natural protective lining. Once this coating is penetrated, the stomach acid can eat away at the wall of the stomach. This often leads to ulcers, gastritis, and other problems.
The stomach irritation can also lead to some indirect side effects of anti-inflammatory drugs. For example, some people may have black stool or episodes of vomiting if they develop an ulcer or gastritis. When people take non-steroidal drugs for months or years, the chance of side effects increases significantly. For this reason, people who have long-term inflammation problems or chronic pain have a greater chance to eventually develop some of the more common issues.
The side effects of anti-inflammatory drugs that rely on steroids are generally much more common, and for this reason, doctors are normally hesitant to use these drugs for any length of time. One of the more common problems for people who take steroids is bone loss. If people use steroids for a very long time, their bones may actually become brittle, which can make them more prone to injury. Sometimes people are forced to take calcium supplements to counteract this effect.
Many people may also put on a lot of weight when they take steroids, and some start growing extra body hair in undesirable places. Others develop cataracts after taking steroids on a long-term basis. Some of the most undesirable side effects of steroids are behavioral changes. This aspect is unpredictable and can range from mood swings and feelings of rage to a state called "steroid psychosis," which can include hallucinations and bizarre behavioral changes.