When a patient with chronic pain is experiencing symptoms, relief is only thing on their mind. NSAIDs, or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, can often provide that relief, however it's important to balance the potential benefits with the potential risks of these drugs.
Penney Cowan founded the American Chronic Pain Association (ACPA) in part to educate people about alternative solutions to pain management. In a recent interview with the Alliance for Rational Use of NSAIDs, she discussed how patients could address their NSAID usage.
"It helps to think of a person with chronic pain as a car with four flat tires. Our expectation is: all we need is one medication, such as NSAIDs, or treatment that will take away the pain, but it only puts air in one of the tires. What else do you need to get back on the road? For each person the necessary combination of therapies and interventions will be different. We need to work with our health care providers to find out what we need to fill up our other three tires, such as physical therapy, counseling or nutritional guidance," she said.
NSAIDs can provide effective pain relief, but they are not without potential side effects. Patients with chronic pain who use these pain relievers at a high dose and/or for extended periods of time may be at the greatest risk for side effects. For many patients, however, the immediate benefits of NSAIDs outweigh the potential for long-term risks.
"In the moment of pain, a patient is only looking for relief and all logic goes out the window. They're going to take an NSAID without looking two to three years down the road. The key is helping people understand the risks of long-term use through education," said Cowan.
NSAIDs are among the most commonly used medications in the country. Many consumers are well acquainted with NSAID products, including brand name Advil, Motrin and Aleve, as well as generic products ibuprofen and Naproxen. However, the majority of people are unfamiliar with the term, 'NSAID.' They may be unaware that NSAIDs are available over-the-counter and by prescription, or that they can be combined with other medications, such as cold and flu medicines.
Cowan herself is a person with chronic pain, and since 1980 she has been an advocate and representative for pain issues.
"Some people don't really have any idea how much NSAIDs they're taking," said Cowan. "And since physicians across the U.S. are writing fewer prescriptions for pain medication, it will be even more important to promote education for over-the-counter products."
The Alliance for Rational Use of NSAIDs