Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) — also known as ‘anti-inflammatories’ — are a group of related pain medicines that have different active ingredients.

Aspirin, ibuprofen (Nurofen) and diclofenac (Voltaren) are all different NSAIDs. Others include mefenamic acid, naproxen (Naprogesic), piroxicam, methyl salicylate, benzydamine and ketoprofen.

You can search for your brand of medicine on our medicines page.

NSAIDs temporarily relieve pain (in pain like headache and period pain), reduce inflammation or swelling (in conditions like arthritis and muscle and bone injuries) and lower a raised temperature.

In addition to relieving pain, aspirin is also used in low doses by people who have, or are at risk of, cardiovascular disease.

NSAIDs are available on their own or in combination with other active ingredients, such as codeine. Read more about ibuprofen and aspirin, including the side effects and how to take them.

What are the risks associated with using NSAIDs?

There are risks associated with all pain relievers.

NSAIDs should be used with caution, especially by people over the age of 65, those at risk of stomach or heart problems, or those with asthma. See our chronic conditions section for more information.

NSAIDs are more likely than paracetamol to cause side effects — especially for people with certain conditions, including:

  • Arthritis pain
  • Chronic pain
  • High blood pressure
  • Asthma
  • Heart failure
  • Impaired kidney function
  • Impaired liver function
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Over 65 years of age.

Before taking any NSAID, including those purchased over the counter, ask your doctor or pharmacist about your risk of developing side effects.

Common side effects with NSAIDs include nausea, heartburn and indigestion. Other side effects may be more serious, including stomach bleeding or kidney problems.

Signs of gastric (stomach) bleeding include mild to severe abdominal pain, blood in the stools and dark coffee-coloured vomit. If you have any of these signs or symptoms, speak to your doctor immediately.

Recent studies have also raised concerns that certain NSAIDs increase the risk of heart attack and stroke in healthy individuals without known cardiovascular disease.

Problems with NSAIDs are more likely to occur if you:

  • are taking certain medicines, such as blood thinners (like warfarin) or corticosteroids (like prednisolone)
  • have or have had certain medical conditions such as a gastric ulcer, gastric bleeding, high blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes or kidney damage
  • are over 65 years of age
  • are taking another medicine at the same time that also contains an NSAID
  • drink alcohol
  • take more than the recommended dose
  • take an NSAID for more than a few days at a time.

If you have any of the risk factors above you should talk to your doctor or pharmacist before buying or taking an NSAID.

Aspirin and other NSAIDs can also trigger asthma in some people. If you have asthma and need a medicine for pain relief, talk to your doctor first.

Children under 12 years should not be given aspirin, unless advised by a doctor, due to the rare occurrence of Reye’s Syndrome, which is potentially fatal.

In general, using NSAIDs occasionally, rather than every day, and at the lowest dose that controls your pain, lowers your chances of developing more serious side effects.

Follow the dosing instructions for NSAIDs carefully. The dose recommended depends on the type and severity of pain, the preparation and strength of the medicine and whether it is used for a child or adult.

Other pain relief medicines