It’s estimated that about 15% of people in the United States regularly take an over-the-counter or prescription-strength NSAID, short for non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug. If you need immediate relief from headaches, menstrual cramps, toothaches, arthritis, muscle sprains, back pain, or gout, then ibuprofen, naproxen, aspirin, and other drugs in this category are a boon.
No medication comes without risks and complications, however. Interventional pain management specialist Edward Carden, MD, recommends anti-inflammatories on occasion, but not for consistent pain relief.
Explore what he sees as the pros and cons of these drugs and whether you might have a better long-term alternative.
Why use anti-inflammatories in the first place?
Anti-inflammatories can be quite effective in reducing immediate pain, and they’re readily available. They help reduce fever and inflammation, are relatively affordable, and you can get them 24/7 at drugstores or grocery stores.
If an over-the-counter dose isn’t effective, you can get a prescription-level version to tame your pain.
The use and availability of anti-inflammatories means fewer doctor visits and reduced health care costs. Anti-inflammatories can help you push through pain, which means greater productivity throughout your day.
What’s the problem, then?
Anti-inflammatories can turn into a problem if people aren’t fully informed about how to use them, when they’re appropriate, and potentially adverse effects. Masking pain with anti-inflammatories can also lead to an incorrect self-diagnosis, meaning you miss a serious illness and avoid getting appropriate treatment.
It’s also easy to greatly exceed the recommended dosage, which raises your risk of complications. Furthermore, people can mix anti-inflammatories unknowingly — they double up on anti-inflammatories, not realizing they shouldn’t take the medications together.
If you have a history of heartburn, stomach ulcers, or stomach bleeding, anti-inflammatories are a bad idea. They’re also not recommended for people with liver or kidney disease, heart disease, high blood pressure, asthma, or people who are taking aspirin, blood thinners, or steroids.
Although most people who take anti-inflammatories have no serious side effects, chronic use raises your possibility of easy bleeding or bruising, rash, and severe liver damage. Pregnant moms should steer clear of anti-inflammatories too, as they can cause problems in unborn babies.
Can anti-inflammatories upset my stomach?
Stomach irritation is a major side effect of anti-inflammatory medications, especially when they’re used chronically.
It’s not just nausea or pain that you experience either. Chronic use of anti-inflammatories can lead to ulcers, perforation or bleeding. Anti-inflammatory medications are actually responsible for more than half of all bleeding ulcers.
What’s the alternative to anti-inflammatories?
It’s not that you have to give up anti-inflammatories entirely, just be judicious with their use. If you find yourself reaching for ibuprofen and related drugs daily or even several times a day, Dr. Carden recommends that you explore alternative pain-relief methods.
Depending on your particular source of pain, you may do better with long-term modes such as nerve blocks, spinal cord stimulation, or a pain pump. Joint injections deliver medication and pain relief to the site of your problem, bypassing your stomach, and causing fewer side effects.
Lifestyle changes and physical therapy also go a long way toward helping you alleviate chronic pain.
There are alternatives to anti-inflammatory medications when it comes to treating chronic pain. Dr. Carden can help you find the ones that work for you. Call his office in Sherman Oaks, California, to set up a thorough evaluation, or book one online.