One of the most common household medications is a class known as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), over-the-counter pills, capsules, creams, liquids and suppositories designed to treat pain relief and reduce inflammation.
Now, you may not have heard of them being referred to as an NSAID specifically, but you would be intimately familiar with most of their common forms. The Victorian government’s Better Health Channel lists these as:
- aspirin (sold under brand names such as Disprin and Cardiprin)
- ibuprofen (Nurofen, Advil)
- naproxen (Anaprox, Naprosyn)
- diclofenac (Voltaren)
- celecoxib (Celebrex).
This class of drugs is usually used to treat conditions such as headaches, toothache, period cramps, muscle strains, arthritis and back or neck pain.
Inflammation and related pain are caused by your body’s immune system reacting to an outside stimulus. The discomfit is a by-product of your body fighting off what it perceives to be a threat. The effect is moderated by a group of lipids known as prostaglandins.
“Prostaglandins are hormone-like chemicals in the body that contribute to inflammation, pain and fever by raising temperature and dilating blood vessels, which causes redness and swelling in the place they are released,” Better Health says.
“NSAIDs block a specific enzyme called cyclooxygenase (or COX), used by the body to make prostaglandins. By reducing production of prostaglandins, NSAIDs help relieve the discomfort of fever and reduce inflammation and the associated pain.”
Lower-dosage NSAIDs sold in Australia don’t require a prescription and can be purchased in supermarkets and petrol stations, but it is still important to make sure you’re taking them correctly.
NSAIDs do have short-term benefits, but beware the possible side-effects, some of which can be concerning.
“Common side-effects of NSAIDs include nausea, heartburn and indigestion,” the Australian government’s Health Direct says.
“The more serious, less common side-effects include stomach bleeding or kidney problems. NSAIDs, including those bought over the counter, have also been linked to a small increase in risk of stroke and heart attack.”
Older people should be particularly careful. A study published in the British Journal of General Practice found that those aged over 65 are at a substantially higher risk of kidney damage and other more serious side-effects when overusing NSAIDs.
“NSAID use in patients aged over 65 years more than doubles the risk of acute kidney injury in the next 30 days,” the study found.
“Older people have a higher baseline risk of cardiovascular events, GI bleeds, and impaired renal function, all of which are further increased by NSAIDs.
“NSAID prescribing is common in this older population, with 9 per cent of patients aged over 70 years receiving a prescription for more than three months.”
Even when using over-the-counter NSAIDs, it’s important to consult with your GP or pharmacist to make sure they are safe and effective. It’s important to set limits on how long you will be taking these drugs as well.
“NSAIDs should always be used cautiously, for the shortest time possible and at the lowest effective dose,” Better Health says.
Reading labels and following the instructions are also crucial.
“If you buy NSAIDs over the counter, follow the instructions closely and do not exceed the recommended dose or duration of treatment,” Health Direct says.
Do you take NSAIDs? Have you experienced any negative side-effects? Let us know in the comments section below.
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Health disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.