NSAIDs Pain Relief: Safety, Side Effects, Uses


At age 62, April Dawson lives every day with stomach ulcers.

But it’s important to put those numbers in context. The AGA also says that every day, more than 30 million Americans use NSAIDs for pain from headaches, arthritis, and other conditions. And while some experts emphasize the dangers, others stress that living with chronic pain is terrible in itself.

“Pain is not just an inconvenience,” says aspirin, which helps protect the heart. The most common over-the-counter NSAIDs are:

  • Aspirin (Bayer, heart attacks and strokes. The heart risks of two Cox-2 inhibitors, Bextra and Vioxx, were considered significant enough to pull them from the market. Bextra also posed a risk of serious Tylenol is not an NSAID, but it doesn’t reduce inflammation, which is a common problem in many people with arthritis or aching joints.
  • Prescription narcotics, like blood pressure goes up or their Nexium, Prevacid, or Prilosec — to reduce the risk of GI problems.

If your doctor thinks that NSAIDs simply are not safe for you, discuss whether you should consider regular Tylenol (acetaminophen) or prescription narcotics like OxyContin, Percocet, and Vicodin. When used carefully under a doctor’s supervision, the risk of addiction to narcotic painkillers is lower than most people believe, Klippel says.

Zashin also suggests that people explore other ways of relieving pain.

“Patients should also look for techniques to reduce pain that don’t rely on medication,” he tells WebMD, “like , acupuncture, hypnosis, and yoga.” Depending on your condition, physical therapy, exercise and weight loss — if you’re overweight — can also improve your symptoms.

Take Charge of Your Treatment

The important thing is to be an active patient. Don’t ignore the risks of painkillers, but don’t ignore your pain either. Certainly, never try to treat chronic pain on your own.

“Being on an NSAID on a long-term basis is an important decision,” Zashin tells WebMD. “So don’t be reticent about discussing the pros and cons with your physician. If you’re prescribed one medicine, ask why your doctor chose that one and not another. Ask about your options.”

You and your doctor need to collaborate, he says. You both need to decide which medicine poses the lowest risks and provides the greatest benefits for you.

Remember, effective pain relief is not easy to achieve. If you suffer chronic pain, you may want to get a referral to a pain specialist, says Goldberg. And it’s important to keep in mind that that some pain can’t be taken away.

“Sometimes, being absolutely pain free just isn’t a realistic goal,” says Zashin. “But if you work with your doctor, we can at least try to get to the point where pain doesn’t interfere with your daily life.”

Originally published September 23, 2005.

Medically updated August 2006.