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If you suffer from arthritis, headaches or back pain, then you are probably familiar with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs, which not only relieve inflammation but also alleviate pain. The most common NSAIDs are ibuprofen, high-dose aspirin, Aleve, or Celebrex, and they use similar mechanisms to reduce pain and swelling. More than 30 million Americans use NSAIDs daily and while the risks are typically lower with these over-the-counter medications, you should be aware there are potentially serious side effects.

How NSAIDs Work

If you are experiencing chronic pain, then the injured parts of your body are producing chemicals called prostaglandins. Prostaglandins act to swell damaged tissue and increase pain signals to your brain. Naturally, this mechanism is intended to alert you to an injury, but for people with chronic pain, this creates an unnecessary level of prolonged discomfort.

NSAIDs interrupt the production of prostaglandins by blocking the Cox-1 and Cox-2 enzymes. The Cox enzymes are involved in the manufacture of prostaglandins, and by inhibiting them, NSAIDs diminish swelling and pain.

Serious Risks Associated with NSAIDs

As with any medication, there are some potential risks which is why you should consult your physician prior to taking any medication whether it is over-the-counter or prescribed. Your physician will probably ask you to take a low dose of NSAIDs over a short period of time so that any hazardous reactions can be identified prior to engaging in a long-term regimen. Regardless of how serious the side effect, you should discuss it with your doctor.

The most dangerous immediate reaction is an allergic one. If you experience swelling in the face, skin rash or difficulty breathing, stop taking the NSAID and visit an emergency room immediately.

An immediate reaction is likely to be noticeable, but there are some serious side effects that may go unnoticed yet produce serious health issues.  Recently the Food and Drug Administration reinforced a warning that NSAIDs may raise the risk of heart attack or stroke.  The risk is further increased among patients who have had prior heart problems and among patients who take high doses of NSAIDs.

Because ibuprofen and naproxen thin the blood, they should not be taken along with anticoagulants or blood thinners. Taking these NSAIDs along with blood thinners could lead to a stroke or a fatal bleeding event. Be sure to discuss all of the medications you are taking with your physician prior to starting NSAIDs.

Additional Side Effects

NSAIDs also pose a risk to people with ulcers or sensitive digestive systems. Because NSAIDs may raise the risk of bleeding in the stomach, it is recommended that you take them along with food. You should also avoid alcohol which can further increase the risk of stomach bleeding. If you have ulcers, your physician may prescribe other medications that can limit the risk of gastrointestinal bleeding.

Regardless of how you are reacting to NSAIDs, do not abruptly stop taking them unless your physician orders you to do so. A sudden halt in NSAID use may cause the formation of blood clots which could lead to heart attack or stroke. Consult with your doctor about how best to stop taking any NSAIDs.

Article written by: Dr. Robert Moghim – CEO/Founder Colorado Pain Care
M.D. Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the personal views of Robert Moghim, M.D. and do not necessarily represent and are not intended to represent the views of the company or its employees.