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Anti-Inflammatory Drugs

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, usually abbreviated to NSAIDs, are drugs with analgesic, antipyretic and anti-inflammatory effects - they reduce pain, fever and inflammation. The term "non-steroidal" is used to distinguish these drugs from steroids, which (amongst a broad range of other effects) have a similar eicosanoid depressing anti-inflammatory action. NSAIDs are sometimes also referred to as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents/analgesics (NSAIAs). The most prominent members of this group of drugs are aspirin and ibuprofen. Paracetamol, or acetaminophen, has little anti-inflammatory activity, and is not an NSAID.

Beginning in 1829, with the isolation of salicylic acid from the folk remedy willow bark, NSAIDs have become an important part of the pharmaceutical treatment of pain (at low doses) and inflammation (at higher doses). Part of the popularity of NSAIDs is that, unlike opioids, they do not produce sedation, respiratory depression, or addiction. NSAIDs, however, are not without their own problems. Certain NSAIDs have become accepted as relatively safe, resulting in the rescheduling of these agents, e.g. ibuprofen, to allow availability over-the-counter.

Adverse Reactions

The widespread use of NSAIDs has meant that the adverse effects of these relatively safe drugs have become increasingly prevalent. The two main adverse drug reactions (ADRs) associated with NSAIDs relate to gastrointestinal (GI) effects and renal effects of the agents.

GI effects or Adverse Drug Reactions (ADRs)

Common gastrointestinal adverse reactions iinclude:

  • nausea
  • dyspepsia (constant pain in the stomach)
  • ulceration/bleeding
  • diarrhoea

Risk of ulceration increases with duration of therapy, and with higher doses. In attempting to minimise GI ADRs, it is prudent to use the lowest effective dose for the shortest period of time, a practice which studies show is not often followed.

There are also some differences in the propensity of individual agents to cause gastrointestinal ADRs. Ketoprofen and piroxicam appear to have the highest prevalence of gastric ADRs, while ibuprofen (lower doses) and diclofenac appear to have lower rates.

Certain NSAIDs, such as aspirin, have been marketed in enteric-coated formulations which are claimed to reduce the incidence of gastrointestinal ADRs. Similarly, there is a belief that rectal formulations may reduce gastrointestinal ADRs. However, in consideration of the mechanism of such ADRs and indeed in clinical practice, these formulations have not been shown to have a reduced risk of GI ulceration.

Commonly, gastrointestinal adverse effects can be reduced through suppressing acid production, by concomitant use of a proton pump inhibitor, e.g. omeprazole; or the prostaglandin analogue misoprostol. Misoprostol is itself associated with a high incidence of gastrointestinal ADRs (diarrhoea). While these techniques may be effective, they prove to be expensive for maintenance therapy.

Renal (Kidney) Adverse Drug Reactions (ADRs)

NSAIDs are also associated with a relatively high incidence of renal ADRs. The mechanism of these renal ADRs is probably due to changes in renal haemodynamics (bloodflow), ordinarily mediated by prostaglandins, which are affected by NSAIDs.

Common ADRs associated with altered renal function include:

  • Salt and fluid retention
  • Hypertension

These agents may also cause renal impairment, especially in combination with other nephrotoxic agents. Renal failure is especially a risk if the patient is also concomitantly taking an ACE inhibitor and a diuretic - the so-called "triple whammy" effect.

In rarer instances NSAIDs may also cause more severe renal conditions, such as:

  • Interstitial nephritis
  • Nephrotic syndrome
  • Acute renal failure

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