Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, commonly referred to as NSAIDs, are used to alleviate fever symptoms and reduce pain. Most people who take over-the-counter NSAIDs use them to ease the occasional headache or muscle pain. But they also provide quick relief for an estimated 52 million Americans— mostly older adults— with arthritis. In these cases, prescription-strength NSAIDs drastically improve quality of life with few noticeable side effects.
“These are some of the most popular drugs in the world,” says Dr. Myron Tong, director of liver research at the Huntington Medical Research Institutes in Pasadena, California. “And as the American population ages, usage will probably increase too.”
Research suggests that regular, heavy use of these drugs increases the long-term risk of heart attack, stroke, liver damage and ulcers. These medications may also interfere with antidepressants.
For most people, over-the-counter NSAIDs are relatively safe to use for minor aches and pains. But daily use increases the risks of conditions that may be more serious. Here’s what to know about the risks.