NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) can reduce pain, fever and other types of inflammation. Common over-the-counter NSAIDs include aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen sodium. Healthcare providers can also prescribe stronger NSAIDs when appropriate.
NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) are medications that reduce inflammation, pain and fever. There are many different types of NSAIDs, including nonprescription and prescription strength. Healthcare providers use them to treat a wide range of symptoms, from headaches and dental pain to arthritis and muscle stiffness.
You can buy NSAIDs in several forms, including:
Common nonprescription strength NSAIDs include:
Some of the most common prescription-strength NSAIDs include:
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Healthcare providers use NSAIDs to treat:
NSAIDs stop your body from producing certain chemicals that cause inflammation. NSAIDs work like corticosteroids without steroid side effects.
Steroids are synthetic drugs similar to cortisone, a naturally occurring hormone. Like cortisone, NSAIDs reduce pain and inflammation.
Don’t use an over-the-counter NSAID continuously for more than three days for fever and 10 days for pain unless your provider says it’s OK. Over-the-counter NSAIDs work well for relieving pain, but you should only use them short term.
If your provider clears you to take NSAIDs for a long period of time, you should keep an eye out for harmful side effects like stomach pain or heartburn. If you develop side effects, your provider can recommend an alternative treatment.
NSAIDs are very effective for:
Some people develop stomach ulcers from taking NSAIDs. To reduce your risk of ulcers, always take NSAIDs with food (preferably, a full meal).
While NSAIDs are effective for relieving symptoms, they don’t help your body heal. In fact, research suggests that these medications can actually slow your body’s natural healing process. A healthcare provider can help you weigh the risks and benefits of using NSAIDs and find a treatment that’s right for you.
In general, you should avoid taking NSAIDs if you have:
You also shouldn’t take NSAIDs if you’re pregnant or plan on getting pregnant.
Additionally, if any of the following apply to you, check with your provider before taking NSAIDs:
You may develop side effects if you take large doses of NSAIDs, or if you take them for a long time. Some side effects are mild and go away, while others are more serious and need medical attention.
Unless your healthcare provider tells you to do so, don't take:
Doing so could increase your risk of side effects.
The most frequently reported side effects of NSAIDs are gastrointestinal (stomach and gut) symptoms, such as:
Taking NSAIDs with food, milk or antacids may reduce your risk for these gastrointestinal symptoms. But if these symptoms continue for more than a few days, let a healthcare provider know.
Additional side effects of NSAIDs include:
If these symptoms go on for more than a few days, stop taking the NSAID and call a provider.
If you have any of these side effects, call your healthcare provider right away:
Head (vision, hearing, etc.)
Possible allergic reactions and other issues
No, acetaminophen isn’t an NSAID. It relieves pain and reduces fever. But unlike NSAIDs, acetaminophen (like Tylenol®) doesn’t reduce inflammation.
Acetaminophen doesn’t cause as many gastrointestinal issues as NSAIDs, though. So, if you’re prone to stomach issues, acetaminophen might be a better option for you. Check with your provider if you have questions about what kind to take.
It’s rare, but NSAIDs can cause a generalized allergic reaction known as anaphylactic shock. If this happens, it’s usually soon after you start taking the NSAID. The symptoms of this reaction include:
If any of these symptoms occur, call 911 (or your local emergency services number) or have someone drive you to the emergency room immediately.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
When your back aches, your head hurts, arthritis acts up or you’re feeling feverish, an NSAID can give you the quick relief you need. They’re safe when used correctly. But it’s not a good idea to take them if you have certain health conditions. Ask your healthcare provider if NSAIDs are right for you.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 07/24/2023.
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