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Osteoarthritis Health Center

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NSAIDs (Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs) and Arthritis

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What Are the Common Side Effects of NSAIDs? continued...

Common side effects of NSAIDs include:

  • Stomach pain and heartburn
  • Stomach ulcers
  • Increased bleeding tendency while taking NSAIDs, especially aspirin. Your doctor might tell you to stop NSAIDs before surgery. Ask your doctor before taking NSAIDs if you are on blood-thinning medications (such as Coumadin).
  • Headaches and dizziness
  • Ringing in the ears may result from certain NSAIDs, including aspirin. This can usually be improved by decreasing the dose.
  • Allergic reactions such as rashes, wheezing, and throat swelling
  • Liver or kidney problems. These problems can be evaluated by blood tests in people who take NSAIDs for prolonged periods. People with any kidney problems should not take NSAIDs without checking with their doctor.
  • High blood pressure
  • Leg swelling

Please note: The side effects listed are the most common ones. Not all side effects are included. Always contact your doctor if you have questions about your particular medication or if you are experiencing any unusual side effect.

Who Is More Likely to Develop Stomach Ulcers and Bleeding While Taking NSAIDs?

Anyone can develop a stomach ulcer while taking NSAIDs. However, several of the following factors may place a person at higher risk:

  • Age over 60 years
  • History of stomach ulcers
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Multiple medical problems
  • 3 or more alcoholic drinks daily
  • Use of anti-inflammatory steroids, such as prednisone
  • Kidney failure (when taken for longer period of time and/or higher doses)


How Can NSAID Side Effects Be Minimized?

There is no way to completely avoid the side effects of any drug, but you and your doctor can minimize your risk of developing some side effects from NSAIDs. For example:

  • Use acetaminophen (Tylenol) instead of NSAIDs for pain relief that your doctor doesn't feel requires an anti-inflammatory drug.
  • Take the minimal amount of NSAIDs that you need for your condition.
  • Take NSAIDs with food.
  • If you don't need 24-hour a day relief, avoid one-dose-a-day types of NSAIDs, especially if you are over age 60. These medications stay in your system longer and may cause more side effects.
  • Ask your doctor about taking a second drug, such as a stomach acid blocker that can reduce your risk of injuring the stomach. Some medications combine an NSAID and an acid blocker in one pill.

If you have persistent or unusual pain in your stomach after starting an NSAID, tell your doctor right away.

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