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Pain Relief Medications: Are They Good for You?

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) have received press in the past for their association with dangerous side effects among older adults compared to younger people. Many older people take NSAIDs to get relief from pain, stiffness, and inflammation. However, these medications can have side effects. If you are taking NSAIDs, check the US Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) website medication guide for more information.

Gastrointestinal Problems

Gastrointestinal problems, including stomach pain, ulcers, and bleeding of the stomach lining, are potential side effects among people who take NSAIDs on a regular basis. Often, the first indication of gastrointestinal damage in seniors is bleeding. There can also be warning symptoms of nausea, abdominal pain, diarrhea, or dyspepsia (indigestion and gas).

NSAIDs may create or worsen gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which is a disorder that results in food and stomach acid backing up into the esophagus from the stomach. Symptoms and complications may include:

The American College of Gastroenterology lists the following as key issues that may put a person taking NSAIDs at risk for GI problems:

If any of the following warning signs appear, contact your physician right away:

Other Problems

Several studies found that problems with NSAIDs are not just stomach-related. Regular use of NSAIDs may lead to:

Why Seniors Are at Increased Risk

People at older ages usually need more medications. Unfortunately, NSAIDs can interfere with common medications that they take, such as blood thinners, blood pressure medication, and and diuretics.

Drug doses for seniors are typically lower than those recommended for younger people due to these changes in the body as people age:

How to Protect Yourself


Alliance for Aging Research

Arthritis Foundation


The College of Family Physicians of Canada

Public Health Agency of Canada


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Last reviewed April 2017 by Michael Woods, MD, FAAP  Last Updated: 4/17/2015