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Pain management health centre

Health risks of anti-inflammatory pain relievers

By
WebMD Feature
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

Pain is a fact of life for many people. It's estimated that almost 28 million adults in the UK live with chronic pain. If that's you, you may find yourself regularly reaching for an anti-inflammatory to ease it.

However, some people have been put off taking anti-inflammatories because of reports they can increase your risk of heart attacks and stomach problems.

It's all about putting the risks into context and weighing them up against any help they may offer for the pain you are feeling.

"We know how chronic pain reduces people's quality of life so you need to risk assess people on an individual basis," says Dr Alan Fayaz, consultant in pain medicine at University College London Hospital and spokesman for the British Pain Society.

Types of anti-inflammatory pain relievers

Another name for them is non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, otherwise known as NSAIDs. They can relieve pain and reduce inflammation.

There are more than 20 different types of NSAIDs. Some you can buy over the counter, others you need a prescription for.

Common examples include ibuprofen, diclofenac, naproxen and etoricoxib. They usually come in tablet or capsule form but can also come as suppositories, creams and gels.

Short and long-term pain

The majority of us take anti-inflammatories for pain at some point.They are often used to relieve the symptoms of short-term conditions like headaches, dental pain and sports injuries. They generally work well without adverse effects.

They are also used to treat long-term conditions, for example inflammatory arthritis like rheumatoid arthritis, and lower back pain.

In general they should be used for the shortest time needed at the lowest dose that works. The longer they are used the more likely they are to have negative side effects.

Some people have been put off using them long-term because of reports of potential side effects. In fact, all traditional NSAIDs now carry a warning about the risks of heart attack and stroke along with other side effects.

So what are the potential health risks?

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