Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): Uses & Side Effects

Uses

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory agents (NSAIDs) are a group of medicines that relieve pain and fever and reduce inflammation. There are nearly two dozen different NSAIDs available, but they all work in the same way, and that is by blocking a specific group of enzymes called cyclo-oxygenase enzymes, often abbreviated to COX enzymes. These enzymes are responsible for the production of prostaglandins. Prostaglandins are a group of compounds with hormone-like effects that control many different processes such as inflammation, blood flow, and the formation of blood clots.

Precautions

NSAIDs are one of the most widely prescribed group of medicines; however, they are associated with some serious side effects.

NSAIDs can increase your risk of a fatal heart attack or stroke. The risk increases the higher the dosage and the longer the length of time you remain on an NSAID for. People with pre-existing heart disease are more at risk and certain NSAIDs, such as diclofenac and celecoxib, have been linked to more heart-related side effects than others. NSAIDs should never be used just before or after heart bypass surgery (coronary artery bypass graft, or CABG).

Gastrointestinal (GI) side effects are also common, and usually related to dosage and duration of treatment although some NSAIDs, such as ketorolac, aspirin and indomethacin, are associated with a higher risk. Elderly people or those taking other medicines that irritate the stomach are more likely to experience life-threatening GI side effects, such as stomach or intestinal bleeding.

Most NSAIDs are not suitable for children or adolescents under the age of 18 years. Ibuprofen is the only NSAID approved for children aged three months and older.

Most NSAIDs should not be taken during the last three months of pregnancy or while breastfeeding except on a doctor’s advice.

Side Effects

NSAIDs can potentially cause a range of side effects, especially when used at higher than recommended dosages for long periods of time.

Gastrointestinal side effects that may occur include bloating, diarrhea, constipation, irritation of the lining of the stomach, nausea or vomiting.

NSAIDs may also affect kidney function and reduce how quickly blood flows through the kidneys. They may cause retention of sodium and water which can lead to edema and high potassium levels. Occasionally, they may cause more serious damage to the kidneys.

Some NSAIDs, particularly diclofenac and those that are selective for COX-2 enzymes, have a high risk of cardiovascular thrombotic events such as a heart attack or stroke. Other heart-related side effects such as high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, and palpitations have also been reported.

In addition, some people taking NSAIDs have experienced asthma attacks, bleeding, fatigue, headache, insomnia, low neutrophil levels, urticaria (hives), vertigo and seizures. Reye’s syndrome, a life-threatening condition that causes swelling in the liver and brain and is mostly associated with aspirin use in young children has also been reported.

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.

Keywords: nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs; NSAIDs.

* The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.