What should I know about NSAIDs and Arthritis?

Women massaging her hand to relieve arthritis pain

NSAIDs (also known as Non-Steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs) can be a lifesaver for pain relief. They are a class of drugs that include things like Aspirin, Diclofenac (Voltaren), and Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin).

NSAIDs are used to treat everything from arthritis and headaches to muscle aches and pains. They’ve been around for decades and are some of the most popular drugs used for pain relief. In fact, NSAIDs are the most prescribed group of drugs in the world1.

Arthritis sufferers, in particular, know how important NSAIDS can be. They’re one of the most effective ways of keeping joint pain to a minimum, managing the chronic inflammation, and reducing swelling. In effect, they help you go about your day-to-day activities in a pain-free manner.

However, there is a down-side. Along with the benefits of NSAIDS come a few unwanted complications. Here are a couple things you should always keep in mind if you’re taking them for a long period of time.

Keep in mind:

Side effects of NSAIDs include things like stomach problems, constipation, diarrhea, nausea, and stomach ulcers. To help minimize their side-effects:

1) Take NSAIDs at the lowest dose necessary (to manage your pain) for the shortest amount of time required.

2) Take the NSAID with food to reduce the risk of stomach symptoms.

3) To avoid ulcers ask, your healthcare provider about taking medications that protect your stomach lining.

4) Consider using acetaminophen (such as Tylenol®) instead of NSAIDs, especially if you are at high risk of developing an ulcer or know that you have an ulcer.

Other factors to consider:

  • Use NSAIDs with caution if you have kidney or liver disease, heart failure, high blood pressure, diabetes, asthma, or ulcers. In some cases, there are alternative medications your doctor can recommend in place of NSAIDs.
  • Although NSAIDs are a class of drug that includes over 20 different types of medications, each drug within that class can have a slightly different effect on your body. Some NSAIDs may work for you while others don’t. Your healthcare provider may need to prescribe several types of NSAIDs to find the one that works best for you.
  • Long term NSAID-use can damage your stomach lining. This damage is known as gastritis and people who take NSAIDs on a daily basis have an increased risk of developing it. To stop gastritis before it occurs, your doctor will usually prescribe you another medication that protects your stomach. If you are a regular user of NSAIDS but are not taking a medication to protect your stomach lining, speak to your doctor or pharmacist right away.

In general, NSAIDs are great drugs that help relieve pain for many different conditions. Still, they should be taken with appropriate cautions especially if they’re being used on a daily basis for long periods of time.

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1- Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) Induced Dyspepsia. Yap PR, Goh K. Curr Pharm Des. 2015;21(35):5073-81. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26369685

2- Arthritis.org.  NSAIDs and the Risk of Heart Problems and Stroke. Jennifer Davis and Stephanie Watson. http://www.arthritis.org/living-with-arthritis/treatments/medication/drug-types/nsaids/nsaids-heart-attack-stroke-risk.php

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