Generic green pills in front of bottleIn just about every single medicine cabinet in the country, you will find a variety of medicines known as NSAIDs, non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs. NSAIDs are most often used in pain management for a variety of ailments from mild headaches and toothaches, to pain from injury or trauma, to chronic issues like migraines and arthritis.  While higher doses of NSAIDs can be prescription only, many forms are available over the counter (OTC) with the most commonly used being Ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) and Naproxen Sodium (Aleve) as well as the various generic forms they take.

Not all people can tolerate all NSAIDs. In fact, the effectiveness of each varies from person to person, as do the recommended dosages and possible side effects. In addition, the various brands (including generics) have different formulations, especially when added to cold, flu and migraine medications and sleep aids.

Because they are OTC, they tend to be cheaper and more accessible than prescription versions, which means the risk of overuse is higher and the likelihood the use is being monitored by a medical professional is lower. It’s important to remember that OTC NSAIDs are still medications and can have serious side effects depending on the person taking them, their preexisting conditions, and other medicines they may be taking.

For these reasons, alert a healthcare professional to all medicines you take, so they can advise you as to whether or not an NSAID will adversely interact with another therapy. Because side effects from NSAIDs include stomach pain and irritation and kidney and liver injury, your doctor should also take into account your overall health condition, including kidney and liver function.

As with all medications, the use and overuse of NSAIDs can present more serious health complications and side effects for some. In fact, research recently published in the journal Neurology shows an increased risk of death from stroke when taking some of these drugs under the wrong conditions.  Along with a higher risk of stroke for some, NSAIDs can increase the risk of heart disease and reduce the effectiveness of blood pressure medicines.

Before taking them, alert your healthcare professional if you have any of the following:

  • Allergies to aspirin or any other pain reliever
  • Regular consumption of 3 alcoholic drinks a day
  • Stomach ulcers or bleeding in your digestive tract
  • Kidney, liver or heart disease
  • A bleeding disorder (or you take a blood thinner)

There are risks and benefits with all medications.  Working in partnership with your doctor will help determine the best and safest way to manage your medical condition.