Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

What are NSAIDs?

NSAIDs are painkillers that help reduce symptoms of pain, stiffness and swelling.

What are the uses of NSAIDs?

NSAIDs are used to help symptoms in many conditions, which cause pain and stiffness, like different types of arthritis. These drugs can also be used for other painful conditions, like sprains and strains following trauma and surgery.

Are NSAIDs safe?

NSAIDS are generally safe but should be used at the lowest possible dose for the shortest period of time. Dose and dura-tion of treatment would also depend upon the condition you need it for. Your doctor would be able to advise you on that. NSAIDs are not safe drugs for everybody though. People who suffer with blood pressure, heart disease, kidney or liver dis-ease, heartburn, and asthma should ask their family doctor or Rheumatologist before taking NSAIDs.

What are the possible side effects of taking NSAIDs?

Many people tolerate NSAIDs without side effects; however one of the more common side-effects is inflammation of the stomach lining possibly leading to gastritis or stomach or duodenal ulcers. If you are on regular NSAIDs then you should also be taking another drug to protect your stomach lining such as Ranitidine or a proton pump inhibitor.

NSAIDs can cause build up of fluid leading to swelling of the legs and NSAIDs can increase your risk of high blood pressure and heart attacks.

NSAID allergic reactions with skin rash and breathing difficulties can occur but are unusual and in some people with asth-ma NSAIDs can trigger symptoms of asthma.

Are NSAIDs safe during pregnancy and breastfeeding?

NSAIDS are generally safe during pregnancy but should be avoided after the sixth month. NSAIDs are probably safe during breastfeeding but always check with your doctor or nurse.

NSAIDs can impair fertility and should ideally be stopped if you are trying to fall pregnant

Are there any other precautions that should be taken?

NSAIDs can increase risk of bleeding and should be stopped 7-10 days prior to any operation. Drinking too much alcohol whilst taking NSAIDs may increase risk of stomach inflammation. You should not take NSAIDs that you can buy (eg Ibu-profen) with any other prescribed NSAIDs. Always tell your doctor, nurse or pharmacist if you are taking tablets you have bought before starting prescribed NSAIDs.

Are all NSAIDs the same?

All NSAIDS work in a similar way but they are all different drugs and need to be taken differently. Their dosage is also different so you can’t easily on the face of it compare doses between them. Their effect may be idiosyncratic meaning some NSAIDs work for some people but not others.

How quickly do they work and how long do the effects last?

You should start to feel the effects within a few hours. The effects can last from a few hours to the whole day based on which drug you are taking.

Who should I speak to if I have any concerns?

You should speak to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist. You should also read the drug information leaflet that comes with the drug.

What are the different types of NSAIDs?

Some of the common NSAIDS are:

  • Ibuprofen
  • Diclofenac
  • Naproxen
  • Indomethacin
  • Meloxicam
  • Meloxicam
  • Celecoxib
  • Etoricoxib

Are NSAIDs available to buy?

Ibuprofen is the only NSAID available to buy in the UK but other versions stronger than ibuprofen are available on pre-scription. These stronger NSAIDs can occasionally be bought in some other countries.

Is aspirin an anti-inflammatory?

Yes, aspirin is also an anti-inflammatory drug but as the risks are too high it is no longer used as an anti-inflammatory drug.

For further detail please also see the relevant SPC document at