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Anti-inflammatory Drugs & NSAIDs: Types, Side Effects & Benefits




Inflammation is a part of the healing process of your body. Your immune system recognizes harmful stimuli and releases specific cells. They attack the threat and initiate healing. Chronic inflammation may be a symptom of underlying conditions. It may require treatment.

Anti-inflammatory drugs can reduce inflammation and associated pain. They can treat arthritis, muscle aches, sprains, menstrual cramps, etc. 

While most have no issue with these drugs, some may develop side effects. These side effects may prove quite harmful to the body. This is especially in the case of pre-existing medical conditions. These medicines require cautious use. They should be used only with carefully monitored dosage. 

Anti-inflammatory drugs are vastly differentiated into corticosteroids or Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.


These are also called steroids. They are a type of anti-inflammatory drug. They typically treat rheumatologic conditions. They are rheumatoid arthritis, lupus or vasculitis. Common types of corticosteroids include cortisone and prednisone.

How Do Steroids Work?

Chronic inflammation may be a debilitating symptom of several medical conditions. Inflammation can produce redness, swelling, warmth, pain and loss of function. Steroids are anti-inflammatory drugs. They reduce inflammation and immune response. They reduce the chemical reaction in inflammation, thereby preventing extensive tissue damage.

Corticosteroids are manufactured drugs. They closely resemble cortisol. Cortisol is a natural product of the adrenal glands to reduce inflammatory activity. 

An important point to note is that corticosteroids are different from the hormonal steroid combinations that some people or athletes abuse.

When Do Steroids Benefit?

Inflammation can damage tissues. It can also threaten vital body organs and their functions. Steroids can prove life-saving in many instances. 

For example, in a septic shock, steroids are one of the primary lines of treatment. Septic shock occurs due to the extreme reactions of your body following an infection. Blood pressure may suddenly drop in this condition. This may lead to potentially fatal consequences such as heart failure, stroke or multiple organ failure. 

Other examples of the use of steroids include kidney inflammation due to an underlying autoimmune condition. Your immune system will work against the kidney tissues. This will lead to failure. Steroid therapy may reduce dialysis or transplantation in such cases.

Steroid therapy is the primary treatment option in autoimmune conditions. These include rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, vasculitis and myositis. In low dosages, steroids can significantly improve pain symptoms and quality of life. Short-term high doses can also help in managing acute flare-ups of these conditions.

What are The Side Effects of Steroids?

Steroid usage does have side effects. Although not every person who takes the steroid treatment gets the side effects, it needs a cautious dosage. The side effects vary individually depending on the type, dosage and duration of the treatment. 

The side effects of corticosteroids include:

  • Increased hunger
  • Weight gain
  • Mood changes
  • Muscle aches and weakness
  • Blurring of vision
  • Excessive body hair
  • Quick to bruise
  • Increased susceptibility to infection
  • Swelling in face and neck
  • Swelling in hands and feet
  • Increased skin sensitivity and acne
  • Reduced calcium absorption in bones - osteoporosis
  • Increased risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, cataracts and glaucoma
  • Stomach aches, bloating and indigestion problems
  • Restlessness and reduced sleep

In case of side effects on using these steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, consult your physician. 

Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are mostly available over the counter (OTC). You can buy it without a doctor’s prescription. These are not steroidal in origin and have fewer side effects than corticosteroids. 

NSAIDs work faster in pain relief. They are highly effective against fever and inflammation. 

Some of the common NSAIDs include:

  • Aspirin
  • Ibuprofen 
  • Naproxen

Although they pose fewer side effects, they may have possible drug interactions. It is advisable to follow your doctor's prescription when using anti-inflammatory drugs.

How Do NSAIDs Work?

Inflammation causes your body to release certain chemical enzymes. They are called cyclooxygenase (COX). These are present in two forms: COX-1 and COX-2. While the COX-1 type protects the lining of your stomach, the other form is responsible for inflammation.

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can block these COX enzymes. NSAIDs can treat pain from muscle aches, sprains, period pains, headaches, etc.

Being nonspecific, these NSAIDs block both forms. So although these drugs are effective against pain, they also interfere with digestive functions.

When Do NSAIDs Help?

NSAIDs can treat pain due to the following conditions:

  • Muscle aches and soreness
  • Back and neck pains
  • Osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, gouty arthritis
  • Ligament sprains
  • Tendonitis
  • Bursitis
  • Toothaches and other dental pain
  • Headache 
  • Body aches following fever
  • Period cramps
  • Other minor aches due to infection, such as flu

What Are The Side Effects of NSAIDs?

NSAIDs may be available without a prescription. But that does not mean they are without any side effects. Like any other drugs, they possess possible side effects and other drug interactions.

NSAIDs are typically for short-term use. They may be used to reduce acute inflammatory symptoms and pain relief. Longer usage duration can increase the risk of side effects and interactions. Consult your physician before using these anti-inflammatory drugs, especially if you are on other medications.

Common side effects of NSAIDs include:

Stomach problems - gas, acidity, diarrhoea, heartburn, nausea and vomiting. The COX-1 enzyme is responsible for protecting the stomach lining. As NSAIDs block these enzymes, stomach problems are one of the common side effects.

Severe cases of this side effect can result in ulceration of the stomach lining due to constant irritation. They may also lead to internal bleeding if left unaddressed for a long time. The risk of these side effects is higher for someone susceptible to stomach ulcers, on blood thinners or corticosteroids.

Heart complications - heart attack, heart failure, bleeding, blood clots and stroke. Taking NSAIDs for long duration and in high doses can increase the risk of developing these heart issues. Having a pre-existing cardiovascular condition can increase the risk of side effects.


While anti-inflammatory drugs are the best option for treating pain due to inflammation, they require caution. Follow your prescription and avoid chronic use. Although there are new anti-inflammatory drug formulations in research that can reduce your risk of side effects, limiting their usage can help you avoid unnecessary trouble.

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