Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, which are often called NSAIDs, are a very common type of drug, available both over-the-counter and, in stronger form, by prescription. Ibuprofen, naproxen and aspirin are all NSAIDs.
NSAIDs are often thought of as pain-relieving drugs. And, though this is one of their effects, they also do much more.
What NSAIDs Do
Inside the body, NSAIDs block the action of cyclooxygenase, an enzyme that has two forms, COX-1 and COX-2. This allows NSAIDs to relieve pain. But NSAIDs also can reduce fevers and decrease the blood’s ability to clot, which can be good or bad depending on a person’s needs. Aspirin, for example, might be protective against heart disease due to this effect. But, people often need to stop taking NSAIDs before some medical procedures to avoid bleeding problems.
One type of NSAID, celecoxib, is what's known as a COX-2 inhibitor, meaning it only blocks the action of the COX-2 enzyme. It's available by prescription and should not be taken along with a traditional NSAID.
Though generally considered safe drugs, NSAIDs do carry some risks. Known side effects include stomach upset, swelling, high blood pressure, rashes and kidney or heart problems. Pregnant women are usually advised to avoid taking NSAIDs, and they can pose risks for people older than 65, too. NSAIDs also can interact with other medications so it’s important for people to talk with their doctor about all their medications before starting to take NSAIDs.
SOURCES: American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, American College of Rheumatology
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