Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are medicines used to temporarily treat minor to moderate pain and inflammation related to everything from arthritis, muscle aches, backaches, headaches, toothaches, sprains, strains, and menstrual cramps. They can also be used to reduce fevers and body aches associated with the flu or common cold. NSAIDs are one of two major types of oral over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers, with the other being acetaminophen. There are two types of NSAIDs – oral and topical. Oral NSAIDs work by blocking enzymes in the body that produce chemicals that cause pain and inflammation. Topical NSAIDs, applied to the skin over a painful area, produce a local effect.
Complete our Pain Reliever Assessment to learn how your personal risk factors can influence which OTC pain relievers you should use.
Minor to moderate aches and pains, fevers. Also symptoms associated with the common cold and with menstruation
Oral OTC NSAIDs:
Contains the active ingredient Aspirin
Contains the active ingredient Magnesium Salicylate
Topical OTC NSAIDs:
- BENGAY® Deep Heating®
- Icy Hot®
Contains the active ingredient Methyl Salicylate
NSAIDs are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and are safe and effective when used according to the Drug Facts label. Because so many medicines contain NSAIDs, it is important to read and follow the Drug Facts label to see which medicines contain NSAIDs and to never take more than the maximum daily dose listed on the label. Taking more than one medicine with the same active ingredient could result in getting too much of the ingredient, which could lead to serious health problems.
FDA requires that the labeling of oral NSAIDs and some topical (e.g., diclofenac sodium) contain specific warnings:
- NSAIDs may cause a severe allergic reaction which may include hives, facial swelling, asthma (wheezing), shock, skin reddening, rash, or blisters. If an allergic reaction occurs, stop use and seek medical help right away
- NSAIDs may increase the chance of severe stomach bleeding. The chance is higher if you:
- Are age 60 or older
- Have had stomach ulcers or bleeding problems
- Take a blood thinning (anticoagulant) or steroid drug
- Take other drugs containing prescription or nonprescription NSAIDs
- Have 3 or more alcoholic beverages per day when using NSAIDs
- Take more or for a longer time than directed
Warnings for non-aspirin NSAIDs:
- Non-aspirin NSAIDs can increase the chance of heart attack or stroke. This risk may be greater if you have heart disease or risk factors for heart disease, including diabetes and high blood pressure.
- Non-aspirin NSAIDs should not be used right before or after heart surgery.
Warning for medicines containing aspirin or magnesium salicylate:
- Children and teenagers who have or are recovering from chicken pox or flu-like symptoms should not use products containing aspirin or magnesium salicylate. When using products containing aspirin and magnesium salicylate, if changes in behavior with nausea and vomiting occur, consult a doctor because these symptoms could be an early sign of Reye’s syndrome, a rare but serious illness.