Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs – also known as NSAIDs – are medications that relieve or reduce pain. The best-known examples of this group of drugs are aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil), and naproxen (Aleve). They are classified as painkillers because of their nonsteroidal effect against inflammation. They reduce high temperature, fever, inflammation, and pain by hindering the formation of compounds known as prostaglandins. Prostaglandins are enzymes that produce chemical signals that call up the immune system’s inflammatory responses. They also act as protectors of the stomach lining by helping the stomach walls produce mucous that defends them from stomach acid.
NSAIDs block a prostaglandin called cyclooxygenase, also known as COX. By blocking the COX enzyme, inflammation in the body is reduced. Blocking COX also inhibits the function of platelets, so they help prevent bleeding. This is why low dose aspirin is given to help prevent heart attacks or strokes.
Most people who take ibuprofen or naproxen daily for low back pain, knee pain, or joint pain take it in higher doses then people who take a daily low dose aspirin. However, they may not know that taking NSAIDs at high doses can have side effects, including an increased risk of heart attack and stroke, as well as developing peptic ulcers and gastrointestinal bleeding.
Since 2001, several studies – including one from 2011 in BMJ and a 2013 review in The Lancet – have linked long-term, high-dose NSAID use to a greater risk for heart attack, stroke, heart failure and death from cardiovascular disease.
Long term use of NSAIDs can also lead to ulcers developing in the gut. These ulcers, known as peptic ulcers, form because the action of NSAIDs blocking the COX decreases the mucous produced in the stomachenzyme has an undesirable effect in addition to the main beneficial one. Long-term NSAID use can leave the stomach vulnerable to damage caused by digestive acid.
To help ease muscle or joint pain, consider trying other therapies — such as hot or cold packs, Chiropractic, or massage therapy. Give us a call and schedule your free consultation with Dr. Gibson!