Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)

Medical Author: Omudhome Ogbru, Pharm.D.
Medical Editor: Jay Marks, M.D.

What are NSAIDs and how do they work?

Prostaglandins are a family of chemicals that are produced by the cells of the body and have several important functions. They promote inflammation that is necessary for healing, but also results in pain, and fever; support the blood clotting function of platelets; and protect the lining of the stomach from the damaging effects of acid.

Prostaglandins are produced within the body's cells by the enzyme cyclooxygenase (COX). There are two COX enzymes, COX-1 and COX-2. Both enzymes produce prostaglandins that promote inflammation, pain, and fever. However, only COX-1 produces prostaglandins that support platelets and protect the stomach. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) block the COX enzymes and reduce prostaglandins throughout the body. As a consequence, ongoing inflammation, pain, and fever are reduced. Since the prostaglandins that protect the stomach and support platelets and blood clotting also are reduced, NSAIDs can cause ulcers in the stomach and promote bleeding.

What NSAIDs are approved in the United States?

The complete list of approved NSAIDs is very long. The following list contains only NSAIDs that are commonly used:

For what conditions are NSAIDs used?

NSAIDs are used primarily to treat inflammation, mild to moderate pain, and fever. Specific uses include the treatment of headaches, arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, sports injuries, and menstrual cramps. Ketorolac (Toradol) is only used for short-term treatment of moderately severe acute pain that otherwise would be treated with narcotics. Aspirin (also an NSAID) is used to inhibit the clotting of blood and prevent strokes and heart attacks in individuals at high risk for strokes and heart attacks. NSAIDs also are included in many cold and allergy preparations. Celecoxib (Celebrex) is used for treating familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) to prevent the formation and growth of colon polyps.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 10/22/2013



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