Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are used to relieve pain and fever and to reduce swelling and inflammation caused by injury or diseases such as arthritis. Aspirin, ibuprofen, ketoprofen, and naproxen are commonly used NSAIDs.

NSAIDs may cause side effects. The most common are stomach upset, heartburn, and nausea. Taking NSAIDs with food may help prevent these problems.

Frequent or long-term use of NSAIDs may lead to stomach ulcers or high blood pressure. They can also cause a severe allergic reaction.

  • NSAIDs have the potential to increase the risk of heart attack, stroke, skin reactions, and serious stomach and intestinal bleeding. These risks are greater if NSAIDs are taken at higher doses or for longer periods than recommended.
  • Aspirin, unlike other NSAIDs, has been shown to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke. It does carry the risks of serious stomach and intestinal bleeding as well as skin reactions.
  • Because aspirin can increase the risk of bleeding, it is not recommended for new injuries. Take other medicines such as ibuprofen or naproxen for the first 2 or 3 days after an injury.

NSAIDs should be taken exactly as prescribed or according to the label. Taking a larger dose or taking the medicine longer than recommended can increase the risk of dangerous side effects.

People who are older than 65 or who have existing heart, stomach, or intestinal disease are at higher risk for problems.

Aspirin should not be given to anyone younger than 20 because of the risk of Reye syndrome, a rare but serious disease.

Last Updated: February 3, 2010

Author: Shannon Erstad, MBA/MPH

Medical Review: William M. Green, MD - Emergency Medicine & Robert B. Keller, MD - Orthopedics

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