What Are NSAIDs?
NSAIDs are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs used to stop aches and pains, inflammation, and occasional fever. Common over-the-counter NSAIDs include:
- Aspirin (Bayer)
- Ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil)
- Naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn)
- Diclofenac (Voltaren)
*Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is used for pain relief and fever reduction, however, it is not classified as an NSAID.
How Do NSAIDs Work?
NSAIDs reduce pain and inflammation by blocking inflammatory markers called cyclooxygenase (COX-1 and COX-2). These markers aid in the production of prostaglandins, which produce an inflammatory response and stop the accumulation or clumping of blood platelets. So, inhibiting these markers reduces inflammation and also causes blood to flow more easily. Individually, COX-1 has more of an effect on the stomach lining to keep it from being worn by stomach acid. COX-2 does not affect the stomach lining in the same way and is preferred for people who have stomach irritation with COX-1 NSAIDs.
What Do They Treat?
Pain conditions treated include, but certainly aren’t limited to joint pain, arthritis, menstrual cramps, headaches, migraines, back pain, gout, and toothaches. Acute pain is pain that lasts for periods of time shorter than three months and is usually best managed with medicines like NSAIDs.
How Much And When?
Dosing instructions are specific to each medication and are located on each package under ‘Drug Facts’. When treating pain, always use the lowest dose for the shortest amount of time possible. In other words, start low and go slow. If you do not feel like the dose is effective, slowly increase to see if you get relief and if so then stop there. If you ever find yourself taking medication for pain for longer than seven to ten days then it would be best to consult a doctor to consider other alternatives for your pain.
If One Doesn’t Work, Can I Use Another?
You should not freely switch NSAIDs if they are not working. While there is a safe way to rotate pain relief options, it is best to speak to your pharmacist or doctor for safe changing of medications. Each NSAID goes through your body slightly differently and this must be taken into account when deciding to change to a different medication if one is not effective enough.
What Are The Side Effects?
As effective as they may be in treating pain, NSAIDs come with a few terms and conditions. Generally, you may experience dizziness, gastrointestinal problems (bleeding or ulcers), heart problems (high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke), decreased kidney function, fluid and salt retention, and indigestion. Whew! If you have any of these problems or concerns or are pregnant or nursing, it is best to wait until you speak with a professional about taking any over-the-counter NSAIDS.
How Much Is Too Much?
If your first dose of pain-relieving medicine doesn’t quite scratch the itch, you must be very careful when increasing the dose. Taking too much of any NSAID will cause heart, blood, kidney, and a few other undesirable issues depending on the medication. Generally, staying within the dose ranges for your pain, age, and size is okay. More medicine means you may experience more intense side effects and an increased risk of overdose or toxicity.
Alternatives To NSAIDs
If you are still feeling eerie about taking NSAIDs, try some of these alternatives to help reduce inflammation in your body and relieve the pain a little less abrasively while still effective, and without all the side effects!
- Omega-3: 1,600mg-2,400mg daily
- Turmeric: 1,000mg-2,000mg daily
- Ginger: 500mg-2,000mg daily
- Peppermint essential oil: topically as needed
The above content is for health informational purposes and a doctor should always be consulted before taking any medications.