IntroductionThere are two main groups of anti-inflammatory medicines:

  • Steroidal – medicines that are usually injected directly into the body
  • Non-steroidal – known as NSAID’s

Some NSAID’s are combined with analgesics. NSAID’s are usually taken in tablet or capsule form, but are also available as liquids, creams, sprays and suppositories.

Anti-inflammatory painkillers are used to ease pain and swelling in various parts of the body. For example, they are used to relieve painful swelling and inflammation in the joints caused by rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis and overuse or impact injuries such as sprains and strains.

Your doctor may also prescribe NSAID’s for other conditions where there has been swelling, inflammation or pain. You need a prescription to get NSAID’s, apart from lower strength ibuprofen and aspirin which can be bought from your local chemist.


How does it work?

If you have a sprain or strain, or an inflammatory disease such as arthritis, your body releases chemicals called prostaglandins, which travel rapidly to he injured area.

Prostaglandins make the tissue around the injury swell up and become inflamed, causing you to feel pain. NSAID’s prevent the production of prostaglandins, stopping further swelling and relieving pain.

Who can use it?

Pregnant women, or women who are breastfeeding should not use NSAID’s. Young children should only take NSAID’s on the advice of a doctor. Unless your doctor specifically advises it, aspirin should not be taken by children under the age of sixteen.

Elderly people should take extra care when taking NSAID’s as there may be an increased risk of some side effects, including confusion and stomach problems.






You should inform your doctor if you have ever had an allergic reaction to any NSAID, or if you are taking any other medicine that could cause a negative reaction.
These include (but are not restricted to):


  • Anticoagulants (blood thinning drugs)
  • Antibiotics such as Ciprofloxacin
  • Diabetic tablets – sulphonylureas
  • Lithium
  • Steroids


Before taking NSAID’s, it may be worth trying paracetamol. Paracetamol is a good painkiller and is less likely to cause side effects. However, it does not reduce inflammation. For conditions such as osteoarthritis which have little inflammation, paracetamol is the preferred painkiller.

Ibuprofen and aspirin are NSAID’s that are available over the counter at your chemist. The ibuprofen that you get is a lower dose than the one that you can get on prescription from your doctor.

For NSAID’s, the dose will depend on the type of medicine being used, what form it is being used in and what condition it is being used for. Unless otherwise directed by a doctor, you should always follow the instructions provided in the enclosed PIL, or as stated on the packaging.

Side Effects

Most people who take NSAID’s do not experience any major side effects. However, you should always read the leaflet that comes with the tablets as it will list all the cautions and possible side effects.

The most commonly reported side effect of long term use of NSAID’s is stomach irritation. If taken over long periods of time, NSAID’s can irritate your stomach lining and may cause it to bleed. Sometimes, this can lead to an ulcer developing. If you have to take NSAID’s for a persistent or recurring problem, your doctor may also prescribe anti-ulcer medication to prevent ulcers.

If you are taking NSAID’s and you develop upper abdominal pains, pass blood or black stools, or vomit blood, you should stop taking the medication immediately. Also, you should see your doctor as soon as possible or go to the nearest casualty department.

NSAID’s can worsen the effects of kidney disorders, so are not advised for people with this condition. In rare cases, NSAID’s may cause an allergic reaction, usually resulting in a painless skin rash. If you develop an allergic reaction, take advice from your chemist or visit you doctor as soon as possible