Are Your NSAIDs Helping Or Hurting?
As the saying goes, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. NSAIDs, or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, are no exception. More than 30 million Americans use NSAIDs daily to relieve aches and pains. These over-the-counter drugs include ibuprofen, naproxen, diclofenac, and even aspirin. While there are great immediate benefits, there are also long-term risks with excessive use.
Why NSAIDs work
NSAIDs block the enzymes that create inflammation. When the body is injured or infected, the immune system triggers a physical reaction. This reaction causes pain, swelling, and heat in the affected area. The inflammation could be acute or chronic, depending on the condition. NSAIDs reduce pain from backaches, headaches, arthritis, tendon damage, or conditions like sinusitis.
The immediate benefits of NSAIDs
Accessibility is the biggest advantage of an NSAID. These drugs can be found anywhere and do not require a prescription. Persons with acute pain can use NSAIDs from a home medicine cabinet or neighborhood pharmacy for fast relief. Depending on the pain, some people feel relief in just a few hours. Best of all, NSAIDs are inexpensive, giving persons relief from pain who can’t afford a trip to the doctor.
Avoiding the risks of alternative drugs
NSAIDs aren’t the only pain-relieving drugs available. Doctors often give patients oral steroids or corticosteroid injections. However, steroid injections can trigger allergies and potentially damage surrounding tissue or bone. Oral steroids also have several side effects, including weight gain, acne, blurred vision, and poor sleep. Opioids are another potent painkilling drug. More potent than NSAIDs, opioids are known for addictive tendencies, leading to overdose or death. NSAIDs bring pain relief while bypassing the harmful effects of these drugs.
Overuse is a significant risk factor for NSAIDs
Since these drugs are inexpensive and easily accessible, there is a significant risk of overuse. Studies have shown that some NSAID users willingly take more than the recommended dosage, particularly men. Some people even fail to realize that other drugs contain NSAIDs, increasing a patient’s overall dosage. Overuse may create various side effects.
Mild to severe reactions are possible
Common reactions to overuse of NSAIDs include allergies, heartburn, dizziness, and nausea. Some persons also experience stomach pain, headaches, and foggy memory. More severe reactions require immediate medical attention. Examples of severe side effects include blood in the stools or urine, chest pain, fatigue, trouble breathing, rash, and blurred vision. These reactions depend on the dosage and type of NSAIDs.
NSAIDs may damage your stomach
The same enzymes blocked by NSAIDs have other essential functions besides inflammation. These enzymes work with other molecules to protect the stomach’s lining. Excess NSAIDs can increase the risk of ulcers, gastrointestinal bleeding, and Crohn’s disease. Persons with these conditions may need to take a proton pump inhibitor to reduce bleeding.
These essential organs are at risk
Except for aspirin, excessive NSAID use can be harmful to the heart. The molecules repressed by NSAIDs also help to relax the arteries walls. The relaxed artery walls, in turn, decrease blood pressure. Using NSAIDs for just a few weeks increases the chances of a heart attack. These drugs also affect the kidneys by damaging tissue and reducing blood flow. Persons taking NSAIDs can increase the risk of kidney damage and disease.
NSAIDs and pregnancy
Recently, the FDA warned pregnant women about the use of NSAIDs. Overuse can be harmful to unborn children, particularly in the last half of pregnancy. The FDA found that these drugs can cause serious kidney problems to the child. There are also lower levels of amniotic fluid created. All pregnant women should consult a doctor before using NSAIDs.
When NSAIDs fail
While NSAIDs can help, these drugs do not address the pain’s root cause. NSAIDs are meant for short-term use. People reliant on NSAIDs are more likely to suffer the risks of overuse. If pain and other symptoms continue to pop up, see a doctor immediately. The doctor can then prescribe other medications, alternative therapies, or surgery.
Stay alert and take action about NSAID use
Dealing with pain can be uncomfortable. NSAIDs are a safe, effective way to relieve pain and inflammation. However, any drug, no matter how beneficial, can have downsides. Overuse of NSAIDs places people at risk of heart complications, kidney damage, excess bleeding, and more. Overuse can also lead to dependency and a gateway for more potent drugs. Speak with a doctor about any long-term use of NSAIDs, particularly if these drugs no longer help.