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NSAIDs Drug Information
(Nonsteroidal Antiinflammatory Drugs)

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What are NSAIDs and how do they work?

As the class name suggests, nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) reduce inflammation but are not related to steroids which also reduce inflammation. NSAIDs work by reducing the production of prostaglandins. Prostaglandins are chemicals that promote inflammation, pain, and fever. They also protect the lining of the stomach and intestines from the damaging effects of acid, promote blood clotting by activating blood platelets, and promote normal function of the kidneys.

The enzymes that produce prostaglandins are called cyclooxygenases (COX). There are two types of COX enzymes, COX-1 and COX-2. Both enzymes produce prostaglandins that promote inflammation, pain, and fever; however, only COX-1 produces prostaglandins that activate platelets and protect the stomach and intestinal lining.

NSAIDs block COX enzymes and reduce production of prostaglandins. Therefore, inflammation, pain, and fever are reduced. Since the prostaglandins that protect the stomach and promote blood clotting also are reduced, NSAIDs that block both COX-1 and COX-2 can cause ulcers in the stomach and intestines, and increase the risk of bleeding.

For what conditions are NSAIDs used?

NSAIDs are used for treating conditions that cause inflammation, mild to moderate pain, and fever. Examples include:

Ketorolac (Toradol) is only used for short-term treatment of severe pain that usually requires opioid treatment.

Aspirin is the only NSAID that is used for preventing strokes and heart attacks in individuals at high risk for such events.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 4/26/2016

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