Inflammation is part of the body's natural healing process, but its downsides lead many to reach for the medicine cabinet to reduce the effects. How do these drugs work?
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen sodium reduce inflammation, working like corticosteroids to inhibit body chemicals that cause inflammation, the Cleveland Clinic noted.
Inflammation is the body's natural response to injury or disease, delivering redness, swelling, pain and warmth to the affected area, the National Institutes of Health noted. While it can support healing, inflammation that is exaggerated or long lasting also can lead to tissue damage, organ failure or death.
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Anti-inflammatory medicine can ease inflammation by inhibiting COX (cyclooxygenase) enzymes, NIH said. An NIH-funded study conducted by University of Colorado, Boulder, and the BioFrontiers Institute and released in 2017 found that anti-inflammatory medicines also may inhibit another group of enzymes called caspases that play a role in such conditions as rheumatoid arthritis and heart disease.
"NSAIDs like ibuprofen and aspirin are among the most prevalent pharmaceuticals worldwide, with over 30 billion doses taken annually in the United States alone. But their precise mechanisms of action are not entirely understood," study leader Dr. Hang Hubert Yin said in a statement. "We provide the first evidence for a novel mechanism of action for NSAIDs."
According to the Arthritis Foundation, the body makes two different types of cyclooxygenase enzymes, and most NSAIDs inhibit both. This can be troubling for long-term users of the drugs because the COX-1 enzyme is associated with protecting the stomach lining, leaving those who take NSAIDs over long periods of time vulnerable to ulcers and bleeding. COX-2 enzymes make hormone-like chemicals called prostaglandins that contribute to inflammation.
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Prostaglandins enhance pain and affect body temperature. By inhibiting these chemicals, NSAIDs reduce pain and bring down fever, Healthline noted. While drugs sold over the counter are effective at reducing pain and fever, relieving inflammation requires higher doses available through a prescription.
The prescription drug celecoxib, sold as Celebrex, is the only selective inhibitor blocking only COX-2 enzymes, making it safer the stomach, Healthline said.
Some side effects of NSAIDs can be eased by taking the medicine with food or antacids and limiting use to short term. Healthline cautioned users to seek medical attention for serious side effects such as ringing in the ears, blurry vision, rash, vomiting, and rapid heartbeat.
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This article is for information only and is not intended as medical advice. Talk with your doctor about your specific health and medical needs.