Donate |

Treating pain with NSAID medications

Find the best and safest pain relievers

Published: July 31, 2013 11:39 AM

The nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are the most frequently used medicines to treat osteoarthritis—the most common form of arthritis—and mild to moderate pain. They cost from about $4 to more than $1,500 a month. This report shows how you could save hundreds of dollars a month or more.

Since individual needs vary, use the information in this report to talk with your doctor about the medicine and dose that is right for you, and the possible risks. NSAIDs should be used with caution. All increase the risk of serious side effects, including stomach ulcers, gastrointestinal bleeding, kidney failure, heart attacks, and strokes. Except for low-dose aspirin and naproxen, NSAIDs might not be appropriate for people at risk of heart disease or stroke. Don't take them for long periods of time without consulting a doctor.

Taking effectiveness, safety, and cost into account, we have chosen two NSAIDs as Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs:

  • Naproxen - generic prescription and over-the-counter
  • Ibuprofen - generic prescription and over-the-counter


These are inexpensive medicines that are as effective as other NSAIDs when used in comparable doses. Naproxen may be a better choice for people who have higher risk of heart attacks or strokes, since the available evidence indicates it does not increase the risk of these conditions. 

If you are at increased risk of bleeding due to older age, use of aspirin or other blood thinners, or a history of prior bleeding or ulcers, talk to your doctor before starting an NSAID. Celecoxib (Celebrex) may be an alternative in some situations, or taking an acid blocker to help protect the stomach. Celecoxib is no more effective at relieving pain than ibuprofen or naproxen, but is more expensive, so it is not a top choice for most people. 

NSAIDs applied to the skin (topical) can be as effective as NSAID tablets or capsules for localized arthritis pain, but it is not yet clear if they cause fewer, serious side effects than oral NSAIDs. Also, they are more expensive. Our advice:

  • If you have had a stomach ulcer or bleeding, or are at high risk of either, talk with your doctor about the potential risks of taking NSAIDs and treatment alternatives. The risk of bleeding from NSAID use increases with age.
  • If you have heart disease or are at risk of a heart attack or stroke, talk with your doctor about the potential risks of taking any NSAID.
  • If you have kidney disease or high blood pressure, talk with your doctor about the risks of taking NSAIDs for long periods of time.
  • Take the lowest dose of an NSAID that brings relief and do not take any longer than necessary.
  • NSAIDs can interact with other medicines, including other NSAIDs, such as aspirin, and increase the risk of serious side effects. If your doctor prescribes an NSAID, tell him or her about any other medicines or dietary supplements you are taking, including daily aspirin to reduce your risk of heart attack or stroke.

NSAID drugs compared

Editor's Note: These materials are made possible by a grant from the state Attorney General Consumer and Prescriber Education Grant Program, which is funded by the multi-state settlement of consumer-fraud claims regarding the marketing of the prescription drug Neurontin (gabapentin).
   

E-mail Newsletters

FREE e-mail Newsletters! Choose from cars, safety, health, and more!
Already signed-up?
Manage your newsletters here too.

Latest From Consumer Reports

Cell phones & services Cats Electronics Smart phones Electronics & computers Apple Phones & mobile devices
SMART PHONE REVIEWS
iPhone 6 and 6 Plus gain on top Android modelsVideo But Apple's new phones can't match some Samsung and LG features.
HYBRID/EV REVIEWS
Driving the future with the BMW i8 plug-in hybridVideo It delivers stunning supercar looks with an almost Prius-like mission.
REFRIGERATOR REVIEWS
Kitchens: Best refrigerators for under $1,000Video These models combine value and performance and won't break the budget.
INVESTING CENTER
7 questions you need to ask your financial adviserVideo The answers could help you get a lot more out of your money.
WINDOW REVIEWS
How to choose the best replacement windowsVideo Find the right windows for your home and climate—and your budget.
SPACE HEATER REVIEWS
7 ways to cut your heating costs this winterVideo Fuel prices are on the rise. Use our advice to keep your utility bills in check.

Connect

and safety with
subscribers and fans

Follow us on:

Cars

Cars New Car Price Report
Find out what the dealers don't want you to know! Get dealer pricing information on a new car with the New Car Price Report.

Order Your Report

Mobile

Mobile Get Ratings on the go and compare
while you shop

Learn more