Common Uses of NSAIDs

What are NSAIDs?

NSAIDs are common medications, both over-the-counter and in prescription drugs. NSAID is an acronym for Non-Steroidal AntiInflammatory Drug. They are a large family of different compounds that have similar effects. All NSAIDs have the following functions:

  1. Analgesic – All these drugs help to relieve pain.
  2. Anti-Inflammatory – Every NSAID reduces swelling and inflammation, which is one way they differ from other painkillers such as acetaminophen (paracetamol).
  3. Anti-Pyretic – NSAIDs are also useful in reducing fever.

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Uses for NSAIDs

As medications affecting these three broad symptoms of more specific conditions, NSAIDs are among the most commonly prescribed medications in the world today.  Some common conditions that doctors treat with NSAIDs are the following:

Rheumatoid arthritis

This is a condition characterized by the painful swelling of joints, though severe cases may also affect other parts of the body. The heart, lungs, and eyes can also be affected. NSAIDs are often used for their combined effects to both relieve the pain and reduce the swelling.


This is the most common form of arthritis affecting over twenty-five million people in the United States alone.  It is a breakdown of the cartilage of a joint, the natural padding and lubrication that allows the joint to move fluidly.  Though in minor cases any painkiller can relieve the pain, NSAIDs are used in more severe cases to also manage swelling.


Gout is a condition where there is a build-up of uric acid in the body.  When there is too much uric acid in the blood, it can crystallize in the extremities.  The joint of the big toe is especially common.  This results in swelling and pain, for which NSAIDs are used to manage the flare up before other measures are taken to return the uric acid content of the blood to normal.

Menstrual Pain

Going by the rather difficult name dysmenorrhea, menstrual pain and cramping are also treated with NSAIDs.  This is especially true when the menstrual pains are so severe as to interfere with daily activities. Many over-the-count NSAIDs are marketed directly at women suffering from menstrual pain.


Headaches and migraines are probably some of the most common problems people treat with NSAIDs. Depending on the cause of the headache, the anti-inflammatory effects of NSAIDs can be very helpful in treating the base cause of the pain.

Migraines are headaches in a class all their own. Researchers are till unclear on the exact cause and process of migraines, but their effects are quite clear: severe headache and nausea. Some of the digestive side effects of NSAIDs can aggravate the nausea often associated with migraines.

Post-Operative Pain

NSAIDs are often prescribed after surgery to manage pain. It’s important to note, however, that it’s important to stop using any NSAIDs prior to surgery as many have an anti-clotting effect and could result in excessive blood loss.

Physical Injury

Injuries resulting in tissue damage such as sprains, strains, or bruising are often treated with NSAIDs, especially where swelling is present. By reducing the swelling, it’s possible to also reduce later pain and allow for faster recovery for many injuries.


This digestive disorder is often defined as a bowel obstruction, but many doctors differentiate ileus as being “non-mechanical” bowel obstruction.  This means that there isn’t anything physically blocking the bowels, but they are not functioning properly. NSAIDs are often prescribed to reduce swelling often associated with ileus, but their digestive side effects are often a problem.

Renal Colic

This is a type of pain typically caused by kidney stones. As kidney stones are usually passed spontaneously (on their own) most treatment includes only pain management. NSAIDs are typically used in this case as morphine interferes with normal kidney function more than NSAIDs do.

Other Uses for NSAIDs

Anti-Platelet (Anti-Clotting) Effects

Many NSAIDs have an anti-platelet effect. They vary greatly in this effect, though aspirin is quite famous for it anti-platelet effect. Platelets are the blood cells that rush to an injury to prevent bleeding, a process known as clotting.

Preventing clotting can have an effect on reducing strokes and other cardiovascular issues, but NSAIDs are not generally taken to prevent cardiovascular disease.  A common by-product of these drugs is high blood pressure (hypertension), which offsets the anti-platelet action.

An exception to this rule, however, is aspirin.  Low-dose aspirin is often administered to patients after the onset of cardiovascular disease to reduce the chances of heart attack and stroke. Many people also take low-does aspirin as a preventative measure, but researchers question whether or not this is effective in a healthy person.

Closing the Ductus Arteriosus

The ductus arteriosus is a blood vessel only found in a fetus. It allows the blood to bypass the lungs while they are filled with fluid. Generally, the ductus arteriosus closes after birth, but sometimes it does not. This can cause complications for the newborn’s heart and lungs. NSAIDs are often used to close the ductus arteriosum by interfering with prostaglandin (a common hormone).



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