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They’re often used to relieve symptoms of headaches, painful periods, sprains and strains, colds and flu, coronavirus (COVID-19), and conditions such as arthritis that can cause long-term pain. Although NSAIDs are commonly used, they’re not suitable for everyone and can sometimes cause side effects

Over-the-counter (OTC) medications are drugs that you can buy without a doctor’s prescription. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are drugs that help reduce inflammation, which often helps to relieve pain. In other words, they’re anti-inflammatory drugs.

Here are the more common OTC NSAIDs:

  • high-dose aspirin
  • ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, Midol)
  • naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn)


  • NSAIDs work by blocking prostaglandins, which are substances that sensitize your nerve endings and enhance pain during inflammation. Prostaglandins also play a role in controlling your body temperature.

By inhibiting the effects of prostaglandins, NSAIDs help relieve your pain and bring down your fever. In fact, NSAIDs can be useful in reducing many types of discomfort, including:

  • headache
  • backache
  • muscle aches
  • inflammation and stiffness caused by arthritis and other
  • inflammatory conditions
  • menstrual aches and pains
  • pain after a minor surgery
  • sprains or other injuries

Types of NSAIDs

NSAIDs block the enzyme cyclooxygenase (COX) from creating prostaglandins. Your body produces two types of COX: COX-1 and COX-2.

COX-1 protects your stomach lining, while COX-2 causes inflammation. Most NSAIDs are nonspecific, which means that they block both COX-1 and COX-2.

Side effects

  • Just because you can buy some NSAIDs without a prescription doesn’t mean they’re completely harmless. There are possible side effects and risks, with the most common being upset stomach, gas, and diarrhea.
  • NSAIDs are intended for occasional and short-term use. Your risk for side effects increases the longer you use them.
  • Always talk to your healthcare provider before using NSAIDs, and don’t take different types of NSAIDs at the same time.


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