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According to a study by the National Foundation for the Treatment of Pain and published in the prestigious NEW ENGLAND JOURNAL OF MEDICINE
(1999  340:1888-1899,) NSAIDs are have potentially very harmful side effects that are often overlooked by the general consumer.

In this study researchers found that when they compiled the data, the adverse reactions leading to death from the use or overuse of NSAIDs such as Advil, Motrin, and Tylenol were similar to the annual number of deaths from AIDS and considerably greater than the number of deaths from asthma, cervical cancer or Hodgkin’s disease. If deaths from gastrointestinal toxic effects of NSAIDs were tabulated separately in the National Vital Statistics reports, these effects would constitute the 15th most common cause of death in the US.

  • This number could be far greater considering many mortality statistics are tabulated by the condition and do not account adverse drug reactions.

Additionally, at least 103,000 patients are hospitalized per year in the United States for serious gastrointestinal complications due to NSAID use.

At an estimated cost of $15,000 to $20,000 per hospitalization, the annual direct costs of such complications exceed $2 billion.

How NSAIDs work

Inflammation, fever and pain are reduced by NSAIDS by a process whereby an inflammation enzyme called COX is blocked.  So, the NSAID blocks the COX enzymes which reduces a chemical in the body called prostaglandin.  Prostaglandins serve several roles in the body including protecting the stomach, reducing blood clotting and supporting the blood platelets.

Therefore, NSAIDs can cause ulcers in the stomach and promote bleeding. NSAIDs are associated with several other side effects. The most common side effects are nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, decreased appetite, rash, dizziness, headache, and drowsiness.

The most serious side effects are kidney failure, liver failure, ulcers, and prolonged bleeding after an injury or surgery.

These types of side effects can occur at any time during treatment and unfortunately, without warning symptoms to precede them.  And it does appear that these risks may increase with duration of use and in patients who have underlying risk factors for heart and blood vessel disease.

Alternatives to NSAIDS

Alternative treatments for pain include but are not limited to acupuncture, chiropractic, localized and precise interventional pain management performed by a MD or DO, anti-inflammatory diets, physical therapy, exercise, weight loss, and nutritional supplementation.

Most of these alternatives are far safer than NSAIDs.  Our culture has become too accustomed to reaching for a candy-coated pill such as Advil whenever an ache or pain arises.  It may take more effort, but going an alternative route more than likely will provide greater results with less risk and potential adverse reaction.