What NSAIDs Are and How They Work

NSAIDs, or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, are common in just about every home. These drugs are taken on a regular basis by individuals of all ages. They are recommended to treat a number of ailments from aches and pains to fevers. While you may have taken them a number of times, you might not know exactly what NSAIDs are exactly. This article will reveal everything you should know about these common drugs.

What Are NSAIDs?

NSAIDs are anti-inflammatory medications that are used to primarily treat inflammation and are one of the most commonly prescribed and recommended drugs to patients. They can also be used to reduce stiffness, pain, fever, blood clotting and swelling.

The most common types of over the counter NSAIDs include:

  • Aspirin
  • Naproxen Sodium
  • Ibuprofen

NSAIDs can also be prescribed. The most common prescription NSAIDs include:

  • Etodolac
  • Oxaprozin
  • Naproxen
  • Indomethacin
  • Vimovo
  • Diclofenac
  • Nabumetone

How Do NSAIDs Work?

There is a wide range of NSAIDs that fall into a variety of classes, but they all tend to have the same effects. They reduce fevers, inflammation, and pain in similar ways. How they actually work is a more complex process.

Prostaglandins in the body affect the inflammatory response in the body. These prostaglandins are necessary to help the body through inflammation. With an increase in inflammation, however, there is also an increase in pain and fever. The more prostaglandins in the body, the more inflammation an individual will suffer from. NSAIDs work to slow down the process of prostaglandin formation. This is achieved when the compounds of the NSAIDs drug work to block the cyclooxygenase enzymes or COX. Since COX enzymes increase the production of prostaglandins, when blocked by the NSAIDs, there is a reduction in prostaglandins and therefore and reduction in inflammation.

There are two types of COX enzymes. COX 1 enzymes protect the stomach and maintain proper kidney functioning. COX 2 enzymes are produced when there is an injury to the joints or they become inflamed. When asking "what are NSAIDs", you will need to consider the effect they have on these COX enzymes. NSAIDs typically block both COX 1 and 2 enzymes, but there are certain NSAIDs that target only the COX 2 enzymes.

COX enzymes also have an effect on the blood platelets. When NSAIDs block the COX enzymes, they also have an anti-clotting effect on the blood cells. These enzymes also help protect the stomach, so NSAIDs can have a negative effect since they block the enzymes from functioning properly.

What Are NSAIDs Used to Treat?

NSAIDs can be typically bought over the counter to treat minor ailments. Prescription NSAIDs can also be obtained to help treat more serious conditions. While they are used to treat a number of condition, some of the most common conditions NSAIDs are used to treat include:

  • Long-term lower back pain
  • Arthritis
  • Cold
  • Flu
  • Headaches
  • Menstrual cramps
  • Sprains
  • Strains
  • Bone injuries
  • Joint pain
  • Toothache

In the most simple terms, NSAIDs are used to treat conditions that can fall into one of three categories. These include:

  • inflammation
  • pain
  • fever

A NSAID may also be prescribed to help prevent artery disease. In low doses, NSAIDs can reduce the risk of stroke or heart attack. Aspirin, the most widely known NSAID, is used to treat most conditions. It is also the most effective NSAID that inhibits blood clotting for the longest period of time, up to seven days. For this reason, aspirin is often recommended in low dosages to prevent heart attack or stroke.

Precaution and Side Effects of NSAIDs

When taking NSAIDs, individual should be aware of these precautions:

  • Excessive alcohol consumption can interact with NSAIDs and irritate the gut which can lead to bleeding of the stomach.
  • NSAIDs can have a negative effect when taken with other medications. Always consult your doctor or pharmacist of the medication you are taking before using a NSAID.
  • Avoid taking more than one kind of NSAID at the same time as this can have negative health effects.
  • Each NSAID is different, so it is important to follow the directions on the label when taking a NSAID.
  • Those who are taking an anti-clotting medication should avoid taking NSAIDs at the same time.
  • Individuals who are younger than 16 or over 65 should not take a NSAID.
  • Individuals who have asthma may notice their symptoms worsen when taking a NSAID.
  • Pregnant women or women who are breastfeeding should not take NSAIDs.
  • Individuals with any type of heart disease should avoid taking a NSAID.
  • Individuals who take diuretics should avoid NSAIDs since they reduce the blood flow to the kidneys.

When asking what are NSAIDs, you may also be wondering about the side effects they can cause. As with any type of medication, NSAIDs can have some side effects. While prescription NSAIDs tend to increase the risk of side effects, even over the counter NSAIDs may cause:

  • Indigestion
  • Constipation
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Rash
  • Decrease in appetite

While rare more serious side effects can include:

  • Fluid retention
  • Increase in blood pressure
  • Decrease in blood circulation
  • Kidney damage
  • Liver damage
  • Ulcers
  • Heart disease

Some individuals may experience an allergic reaction when taking a NSAIDs. People who have asthma tend to have a greater risk of allergic reaction which can cause shortness of breath and severe allergic reactions.

Children or teenagers who take NSAIDs have a greater risk of developing Reye's syndrome which can be a fatal, especially if they have the chickenpox or influenza.