Chances are you have taken an NSAID (\’en-ˌsed \ ), even if you don’t know what that acronym means. NSAIDs, short for non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, are one of the most commonly prescribed medications for pain and inflammation. NSAIDs are available by prescription and over the counter (OTC), and nearly 96 percent of patients over the age of 65 use them.

Here are some of the NSAIDs you’ve probably heard of:

  • celecoxib (Celebrex),
  • ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin),
  • meloxicam (Mobic), and
  • naproxen (Aleve).

You can find more in a list of NSAIDs compiled by the FDA.

NSAIDs are used to treat a variety of medical conditions, like arthritis, headaches, flu, menstrual cramps, back pain, dental pain, and muscle aches. They are effective because they block the production of inflammation-causing compounds in the body.

NSAIDs are also considered safe to prescribe and take over the counter. But like most drugs, NSAIDs aren’t good for everyone – especially when taken in higher doses and for longer periods. This 2018 comprehensive review of the drugs shows how they can lead to digestive issues, kidney damage and other problems. The FDA has also issued a warning that NSAIDs can cause heart attacks and stroke. That’s why it is important to follow the dosage limits on the label or in the literature that comes with your prescription.

Unfortunately, people often exceed these dosage limits. This 2018 study of 1326 users of the NSAID ibuprofen found that more than 10 percent of participants exceeded the maximum daily dose of ibuprofen. Worse than that, though, more than a third also took another NSAID (non-ibuprofen) unknowingly. In other words, they were double-dosing and didn’t realize it.

What this study tells us is that it’s common for people to take too high a dose of NSAIDs, or for people to not even realize that they are taking NSAIDs. The good news is that you can prevent this from happening to you and your loved ones. Here’s how:

Know your NSAIDs

It’s easy to find out whether something you take is an NSAID: check it against the FDA’s list, or ask your doctor or pharmacist. Remember that NSAIDs can be prescription or over the counter, so check all your pills. Take note of how many NSAIDs you take, so you are aware of the potential for double-dosing.

Know the right dose

When given a prescription make sure to follow your doctor’s instructions. You should be able to find this information on the label or in the materials that come with the prescription. If you are not sure, ask your doctor or pharmacist. Read the labels of all over-the-counter NSAIDs to make sure you are clear on the recommended dose and dose limits. This includes how long you should continue taking the drug. It’s usually recommended for only a few days.

Let your doctor know what you take

Make sure your doctor knows all the medications you take, including those you get over the counter or from another physician. This is true for NSAIDs as well as all other medications. Your doctor should also be aware of the frequency and dose you are taking. It’s good practice to keep a written list that you share with your doctor and pharmacist.

Watch out for side effects

While exceeding the dosage limits increases the risk of side effets, they can occur even when you follow the dosage instructions perfectly. So be alert for them when you are taking medications of any kind. You can usually find a list of potential side effects for any drug you are taking on the label or in the included literature. For NSAIDs, the most common side effects include gas, diarrhea, constipation, stomach pain, vomiting, and heartburn. There are also more serious side effects that you should tell your doctor about immediately, including chest pain, shortness of breath, slurred speech, or sudden weakness.

When taken properly, NSAIDs can provide incredible relief and significantly improve your quality of life. And chances are they will never be a problem for you. But it’s best not to leave something like this up to chance.

If you have questions about NSAIDs or are concerned about possible side effects, call our office today.