Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatories (NSAIDs)

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs include aspirin and ibuprofen (Advil, Nuprin and Motrin). These drugs relieve both pain and swelling (inflammation) that sometimes comes with joint, bone or spine pain. All of these are available without a doctor's prescription. For mild to moderate pain in the joints or back, these may be all that is needed. Possible side effects include:

  • Bleeding or bruising caused by delayed blood clotting.
  • Changes in your ability to think, reason and be oriented (cognitive changes)
  • Fluid retention
  • Heart failure
  • Kidney damage
  • Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
  • Ulcers

You can take up to 400 mg every eight hours. Prescription doses can be as high as 800 mg every eight hours. NSAIDs are often more effective if they are used continuously to build up in your blood stream.

If you have or have had stomach ulcers, you should talk to your doctor before taking NSAIDs because of their effect on the stomach.

A generation of NSAIDs inhibits the cyclooxygenase enzyme, which was discovered in 1976. This enzyme plays a role in causing swelling (inflammation). In 1991, it was discovered that there are actually two of these enzymes.

COX-2 inhibitors, which work to inhibit the second version of the enzyme, are available. These newer drugs seem as effective as the older NSAIDs and have fewer side effects. Research suggests that some COX-2 inhibitors may increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes. One of these drugs, Vioxx, has been removed from the market by its maker. Other drugs in this class are Celebrex, naproxen, Bextra and Aleve. If you take or have taken these drugs, you should discuss it with your doctor.

To learn more about these and other drugs, go to Medline Plus drug information.

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