Chances are some of the over-the-counter medications you have in your drug cabinet fall into the category of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). More than 30 billion NSAID tablets sell over-the-counter annually in the United States and stronger variations of these drugs are available through a doctor’s prescription.

The common forms of these drugs include aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen, sold as Aleve. These medications help provide pain relief from headaches, but can also reduce pain and inflammation related to chronic disorders, including arthritis or back pain.

Although NSAIDs are common, their use can result in serious side effects.

NSAIDs work by interfering with the body’s chemical processes that result in pain. Specifically, the drugs prevent the production of hormone-like chemicals called prostaglandins. The enzyme that NSAIDs inhibit to reduce pain is the same enzyme that protects the stomach lining, creating the potential for serious problems. 

That’s why although NSAIDs are very effective at reducing pain, they also frequently lead to gastrointestinal problems, including stomach pain, nausea, heartburn, or diarrhea. Long-term use of NSAIDs increases the risk for side effects and opens the way for a new set of serious conditions, including kidney toxicity, the development of ulcers, or even heart attack or stroke.

Some people are already at increased risk for side effects when taking NSAIDs, even short-term. Those include people who are over 60 years of age, drink more than three alcoholic beverages daily, or have heart or liver disease.

Long-term use has resulted in more than 100,000 hospitalizations and 16,500 deaths annually in the United States, according to the American Nutrition Association.

Because of the risks involved with taking NSAIDs, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends that people take the lowest dose possible for the least amount of time.

Recommended dosages vary depending on the type of medication taken and the level of pain you’re experiencing. Read the label carefully, and consult with your doctor, especially if you’re on other medications or if you take NSAIDs for longer than ten days.

Have you experienced any side effects from taking NSAIDs? 

Image by cpradi via Flickr


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