Anti-inflammation drugs are safe for short-term use

Sep 20, 2013
Dr. Al Mina

Question:
How safe are over-the-counter anti-inflammation drugs, such as Aleve, for addressing joint and back pain? Can these pills be used long-term or are there better alternatives?

Answer:
Drugs such as Aleve, ibuprofen and naproxen are commonly called non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). They are one of the most common over the counter (OTC) medications bought in the U.S. According to a PR Newswire report, more than 23 million Americans use them on a daily basis.

Dr. Al Mina, a General Surgeon with Haywood Surgical Associates weighed in about how they work, how safe they are for long-term use and what patients should take into consideration when talking with their doctor.
All NSAIDs work by blocking certain enzymes (chemicals) known as cyclooxegenase, or COX for short, said Dr. Mina. You may have heard about COX-1 and COX-2 on TV commercials for drugs such as Celebrex. COX are responsible for the production of another chemical in our body called prostaglandins.

Prostaglandins are responsible for the unwanted effects of inflammation, pain and fever when you get injured. So when you take a medication such as ibuprofen for an injury, you are telling your body to produce less of the chemicals that make an injury painful and swollen.

The same chemicals in our bodies that produce swelling, pain and fever when we are injured are also important for protecting us. They do this through producing mucous in our stomach, which protects from ulcers and other problems, and helping with blood flow to our kidneys and liver, which helps prevent failure of those organs.

That is why overuse of NSAIDS is a concern; you don’t want to inhibit too much of your body’s natural functions for too long, because it can cause serious problems.

Doctors typically talk about the risks vs. the benefits to what they do, and Dr. Mina said that in general terms NSAIDs are very safe for short term use. When used for long term treatment of back and joint pain, however, all these side effects can begin to add up. Especially when combined with other medications such as steroids, diuretics, or aspirin, patients with habits such as tobacco use or smoking and family history, or obesity. Side effects can really escalate.

All this is to say that your doctor needs to be aware of all your medications, including any OTC medication you are taking, so that a plan can be devised to safely monitor you, and modify any risks involved with these medications.
Our medical professionals look forward to answering your questions in future columns. Until then, stay healthy.

This article is for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have questions regarding a medical condition, seek the advice of a physician or qualified health provider.

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