What are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs)?
NSAIDs reduce inflammation and reduce pain. Inflammation is the body's protective response to irritation or injury and is characterized by redness, warmth, swelling and pain. NSAIDs are used to treat a variety of conditions that cause arthritis and tendinitis. NSAIDs are also used to treat other causes of acute or chronic pain.

How do NSAIDs work?
NSAIDs work by blocking the production of certain body chemicals that cause inflammation. They may also relieve pain that is not caused by inflammation, such as in the case of bruises or headaches.

Some of the anti-inflammatory qualities of NSAIDs are like those of corticosteroids (also called steroids). However, NSAIDs lack many of the side effects of steroids. Steroids are man-made drugs that closely resemble cortisone, a naturally-occurring hormone.

Are all NSAIDs the same?
There appears to be no fundamental difference in the ability of different NSAIDs to reduce pain and inflammation. However, some NSAIDs may be safer than others. Some NSAIDs may be more convenient for patients, since they need only be taken once or twice a day. Generic drugs are also less expensive than brand name drugs. When you are prescribed a particular NSAID, your health care provider considers your medical condition, safety, convenience and cost.

What are some prescription NSAIDs?

Generic  Name Common Brand Names Hours Between Doses
aspirin (salicylate) Bayer, Ecotrin, Ascriptin 4
salicylate derivatives Trilisate, Disalcid 8
diclofenac Voltaren 8
etodolac Lodine 8
ibuprofen Advil, Nuprin, Motrin 4
indomethacin Indocin 8
ketoprofen Orudis 8
ketorolac tromethamine Toradol 6
nabumetone Relafen 24
naproxen Naprosyn 12
oxaprozin Daypro 24
piroxicam Feldene 24
Sulindac Clinoril 12

How are NSAIDs prescribed?
NSAIDs are prescribed in different doses, depending on your condition. Usage may range from one to four times per day, depending on the duration of action of each drug. Your health care provider may prescribe higher doses of NSAIDs if you have rheumatoid arthritis, for example, because there is frequently a significant degree of heat, swelling, redness and stiffness in the joints. Lower doses may be adequate for osteoarthritis and acute muscle injuries, since there is generally less swelling and frequently no warmth or redness to the joints.

No single NSAID is guaranteed to work. Your health care provider may prescribe several types of NSAIDs to find the one that works best for you.

What are some common side effects of NSAIDs?
Although NSAIDs are reasonably safe medications, it is important that you are aware of potential side effects. NSAIDs are safest when low doses are taken for brief periods. Side effects most commonly occur if you are taking large doses over a prolonged time (months or years). Some side effects are mild and go away spontaneously or after reducing the dose. Other side effects may be more serious and need medical attention.

Some common side effects include:

Please note: The side effects listed are the most common. All possible side effects are not included. Always contact your health care provider if you have questions about your particular medication.

What side effects should I tell my health care provider about right away?
If you experience any of the following side effects, it is important to call your health care provider.

Who is more likely to develop ulcers while taking NSAIDs?
It is impossible to predict if someone will develop an ulcer while taking NSAIDs. However, several factors may place a person at high risk for developing an ulcer while taking NSAIDs:

How can side effects be minimized?
There is no way to completely avoid the side effects of any drug, but there are strategies you and your doctor can use to minimize your risk of developing some side effects:

Can I take NSAIDs if I'm being treated for high blood pressure?
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory agents can raise blood pressure in some people. Some people with known high blood pressure (hypertension) may have to stop taking NSAIDs, if blood pressure increases in spite of regularly taking their blood pressure medications.

Are NSAIDs available without a prescription?
Yes. Over-the-counter NSAIDs are available without a prescription in much lower doses than comparable prescription NSAIDs. Current over-the-counter NSAIDs include:

As with any medication, always follow the directions on the label and the instructions from your health care provider.

Never use an over-the-counter NSAID continuously for more than two weeks without consulting your health care provider. Over-the-counter NSAIDs are effective pain-relievers, but they are intended for short-term use. When taking NSAIDs for long periods of time, you should be carefully monitored by your health care provider so he or she can detect harmful side effects and modify your treatment if necessary.

Copyright 1995-2018 The Cleveland Clinic Foundation. All rights reserved


This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. For additional health information, please contact the Center for Consumer Health Information at the Cleveland Clinic (216) 444-3771 or toll-free (800) 223-2273 extension 43771. If you prefer, you may visit www.clevelandclinic.org/health/ or www.clevelandclinicflorida.org. This document was last reviewed on: 10/2/2004