Frequent use of NSAIDs: Is it Worth the Risk?

Frequent use of NSAIDs: Is it Worth the Risk? 645d52c37a60f.png

Frequent use of NSAIDs: Is it Worth the Risk?

In the United States, it is estimated that over 29 million people use over-the-counter pain medication such as aspirin or ibuprofen daily.

You read that right.

29 million people are popping over-the-counter pain pills every day, for everything from back pain to joint pain, to knee osteoarthritis pain.

NSAIDs, which stands for non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, are so widely used that they can be found everywhere from drugstores to supermarkets, airports, gas stations, and even in vending machines.

The most commonly used NSAIDs in the United States are:

  • Aspirin (available as a single ingredient known by various brand names such as Bayer® or St. Joseph® or combined with other ingredients known by brand names such as Anacin®, Ascriptin®, Bufferin®, or Excedrin®).
  • Ibuprofen (known by brand names such as Motrin® and Advil®).
  • Naproxen sodium (known by the brand name Aleve®).

Acetaminophen (Tylenol®) is sometimes mistakenly referred to as an NSAID, but it’s not. Though it is also a pain reliever and fever reducer, acetaminophen doesn’t have the anti-inflammatory properties of NSAIDs. However, acetaminophen is sometimes combined with aspirin in over-the-counter products, such as some varieties of Excedrin®.

Whether it’s NSAIDs or acetaminophen, the bottom line is that millions of Americans rely on these medications every day, to reduce aches and pains, inflammation, and joint pain, which brings in billions of dollars every year.

Consumer reports published the results of their research on the most popular over-the-counter pain medications, and the amount of money the sale of them brought in, in millions of US dollars, in 2019.

Though these medications can be effective at reducing knee pain related to osteoarthritis, when used long-term, they can cause more harm than good.

In fact, the recommendation by the makers of these drugs is that they shouldn’t be used continuously for more than three days for fever, and 10 days for pain, unless it is under the suggestion and care of a physician.

Based on your particular situation, if your doctor gives you the green light to take NSAIDs for a longer period of time, it’s important to make sure that they monitor you for any harmful side effects. In which case, the medicine will need to be stopped entirely, and a different type of pain medicine or treatment will need to be administered.

Some common side effects like bloating, increased gas, heartburn, stomach pain, nausea, and constipation can generally be prevented by taking an NSAID with food, milk, or an antacid. However, if these symptoms continue even when combined with food, milk, or an antacid, it’s important to inform your doctor so the medication can be stopped and changed.

A few other common side effects of NSAIDs include:

  • Dizziness.
  • Feeling lightheaded.
  • Problems with balance.
  • Difficulty concentrating.
  • Mild headaches.

If these symptoms go on for more than a few days, stop taking the NSAID and call your doctor.

Though most of the aforementioned symptoms are mild and can be treated with another medicine, by reducing the amount taken, or switching medicines, some side effects are serious and when experienced should be followed by a call to your doctor immediately.

These serious side effects include:

  • Gastrointestinal/urinary
  • Black stools — bloody or black, tarry stools.
  • Bloody or cloudy urine.
  • Severe stomach pain.
  • Blood or material that looks like coffee grounds in vomit (bleeding may occur without warning symptoms like pain).
  • Inability to pass urine, or change in how much urine is passed.
  • Unusual weight gain.
  • Jaundice.
  • Head (vision, hearing, etc.):
  • Blurred vision.
  • Ringing in the ears.
  • Photosensitivity (greater sensitivity to light).
  • Very bad headache.
  • Change in strength on one side is greater than the other, trouble speaking or thinking, change in balance.

It’s also important to watch out for possible allergic reactions and other problems such as:

  • Fluid retention (recognized by swelling of the mouth, face, lips, or tongue, around the ankles, feet, lower legs, hands, and possibly around the eyes).
  • Severe rash or hives or red, peeling skin.
  • Itching.
  • Unexplained bruising and bleeding.
  • Wheezing, trouble breathing, or unusual cough.
  • Chest pain, rapid heartbeat, palpitations.
  • Acute fatigue, flu-like symptoms.
  • Very bad back pain.
  • Feeling very tired and weak.

Due to the risks involved in taking medications, some would rather avoid them as much as possible. Fortunately,  medication is not the only option when it comes to reducing knee pain caused by osteoarthritis. Nor is major surgery, such as knee replacement surgery, and other invasive procedures with long recovery periods.

Though some patients benefit from all sorts of other treatments ranging from injecting medication called corticosteroids or hyaluronic acid which can be injected when knee pain becomes severe- many find great benefits from Genticular Artery Embolization, which we specialize in here at MidAtlantic Vascular and Interventional.

To learn more about this state-of-the-art procedure to reduce knee pain and increase mobility, please call and set up a consultation with us today!

In our next article, we will look into the use of prescription painkillers that are sometimes used to treat osteoarthritis knee pain and the risks that come along with choosing these particular types of medication for pain relief.


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