Non-steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: May 2023

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are commonly used pain medicines. They are also often used to treat rheumatoid arthritis (RA).1

NSAIDs not only can relieve pain, but they are also effective in reducing inflammation, swelling, redness, and fever. NSAIDs are commonly used for temporary conditions, such as:1

  • Sprains
  • Strains
  • Flares of back pain
  • Headache
  • Painful menstrual periods

Low doses of NSAIDs reduce pain, but higher doses are often needed to reduce inflammation.1

How do NSAIDs work?

NSAIDs block enzymes in the body that make prostaglandins. Prostaglandins are naturally occurring fatty acids that play a role in the inflammatory and pain processes. By blocking these enzymes, NSAIDs decrease inflammation, pain, and fever.1,2

Some NSAIDs, like ibuprofen, block two of these enzymes, COX-1 and COX-2. Celebrex, a prescription NSAID, targets COX-2 and is also known as a COX-2 inhibitor. Different NSAIDs may have similar effectiveness, but some people respond better to one NSAID than another.1,2

NSAIDs start to work quickly on pain, within a few hours of taking the medicine. The anti-inflammatory effects of NSAIDs take longer to realize.1


NSAIDs are available over the counter and in prescription form. Common NSAIDs include:1-4

  • Ibuprofen (Motrin®, Advil®)
  • Naproxen (Aleve® and Naprosyn®)
  • Diclofenac (Voltaren®, Cataflam®)
  • Ketoprofen (Orudis®, Oruvail®)
  • COX-2 inhibitors (Celebrex®)
  • Meloxicam (Mobic™)

What are the possible side effects?

Side effects can vary depending on the specific NSAID you are taking. Common side effects include:1-3

  • Gas and bloating
  • Heartburn
  • Stomach pain
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Dizziness
  • Feeling lightheaded

These are not all the possible side effects of NSAIDs. Talk to your doctor about what to expect when taking NSAIDs. You also should call your doctor if you have any changes that concern you when taking NSAIDs.

Other things to know

Some NSAIDs may interfere with medicines prescribed to treat heart disease. If you have heart disease, talk to your doctor before taking an NSAID.1

NSAIDs should not be used during pregnancy unless prescribed by a doctor. If you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, talk to your doctor before taking an NSAID.1

Talk to your doctor before using NSAIDs if you have:1

  • Kidney or liver problems
  • Hepatitis
  • Ulcer or hernia
  • Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis
  • Asthma or other chronic lung disease
  • Reflux disease or indigestion
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart problems

Some other medicines interact with NSAIDs. Before beginning treatment for RA, tell your doctor about all your health conditions and any other drugs, vitamins, or supplements you take. This includes over-the-counter drugs.

By providing your email address, you are agreeing to our privacy policy.