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Arthritis Health Center

Making the Decision on NSAIDs

Should you take anti-inflammatory pain relievers regularly? Here are pros and cons to help you make your decision.
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Key Points in Making the NSAID Decision

Consider the following when making your decision:

  • NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) are a common class of over-the-counter and prescription painkiller. Examples include aspirin, Advil, Aleve, Motrin, and prescription drugs like Celebrex.

  • You should never take any over-the-counter medicine regularly without discussing it with your doctor. Most over-the-counter painkillers should not be used for more than 10 days.

  • Like any medicine, over-the-counter and prescription NSAIDs have side effects. The FDA has recently required that all over-the-counter and prescription NSAIDs -- except aspirin -- include warnings about possible risks of gastrointestinal and cardiovascular side effects and allergic reactions.

  • The risks of NSAIDs have been highlighted in the media recently. But it's important to understand that, for many people, NSAIDs are a safe and effective treatment. The key is to work with your doctor. Together, you can weigh the benefits and risks and decide on the best treatment in your case.

  • NSAIDs are not alike. They can have very different pros and cons. Talk to your doctor about the NSAID that might work best for you.

  • NSAIDs can appear in unlikely places. For instance, many over-the-counter medicines for colds and the flu contain doses of these pain relievers. Make sure you know the ingredients of any medicine you use.

  • There are alternatives to NSAIDs. Many people who can't take NSAIDs benefit from Tylenol (acetaminophen.) Other options for people with severe chronic pain are prescription narcotics, like OxyContin, Percocet, and Vicodin. Some find that physical therapy, weight loss (if overweight), biofeedback, yoga, meditation, and acupuncture can also reduce their pain.

  • In some people, complete pain relief isn't possible. But in such cases, you can focus on reducing your pain so that it doesn't interfere with your life.

What Are NSAIDs?

NSAIDs -- nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs -- are a common treatment for ailments, such as joint pain, related to inflammation. They relieve pain, reduce swelling, and lower fevers.

Examples of over-the-counter NSAIDs are:

  • Aspirin (Bayer, St. Joseph, and Ecotrin)
  • Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, Nuprin)
  • Ketoprofen (Actron, Orudis KT)
  • Naproxen (Aleve)

There are also prescription strength NSAIDS. Some examples are Daypro, Indocin, Lodine, Naprosyn, Relafen, and Voltaren.

Cox-2 inhibitors are a newer form of prescription NSAID. Celebrex is the only one of these drugs still on the market. Two others -- Bextra and Vioxx -- are no longer sold because of concerns about their side effects.

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