American Medical Journal 3 (2): 115-123, 2012
© 2012 Science Publications
Corresponding Author: Patompong Ungprasert, Department of Internal Medicine, Bassett Medical Center and Columbia University,
College of Physicians and Surgeons, Cooperstown, New York
What Is The “Safest” Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs?
Daych Chongnarungsin and
Department of Internal Medicine,
Bassett Medical Center and Columbia University,
College of Physicians and Surgeons, Cooperstown, New York
Abstract: Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) which are widely used in clinical
practice are also very well-known for their various adverse reactions. Each NSAID has its own unique
safety profile and selecting an appropriate NSAID must be individualized for each patient based on his
or her medical needs and risk factors. We reviewed literatures on NSAIDs, focusing on their adverse
reaction profile. We reviewed and compared the incidence of adverse reaction from individual
NSAIDs according to organ systems. This review includes both selective COX-2 inhibitors and non-
selective NSAIDs. Based on the most up-to-date evidence, ibuprofen appears to be the preferred
NSAIDs based on its favorable GI and nephrotoxicity profiles. Naproxen might be considered in patients
who have greater cardiac risk. Celecoxib, at the dose of less than or equal to 200 mg day
, might be an
option in the patients who are at high risk for GI bleeding.
Key word: Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs), COX-2 inhibitor, adverse drug
reaction, adverse reactions, safety profile, clinical practice, organ systems
Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)
are the most commonly used medications in the United
States (Laine, 2001). They are primarily used as pain
killer as well as anti-inflammatory agent. Currently, there
is nineteen NSAIDs available in the United States (Table
1). With the continued aging of our population, the
Center for Disease Control predicts that the prevalence of
painful degenerative joint disease will increase, which
will probably lead to an increase in the use of NSAIDs.
NSAIDs are well-known for their adverse drug
reaction. Approximately 30% of hospitalizations of
adverse drug reactions are caused by NSAIDs
(Pirmohamed et al., 2004). Adverse reactions can affect
various organ systems with gastrointestinal bleeding
and cardiovascular events being the most serious and
sometimes fatal reaction.
Most of the toxic effects of NSAIDs are a direct
result of their mode of action which includes
suppression of prostaglandins synthesis.
Cyclooxygenase (COX) is the key enzyme in
prostaglandin synthetic process that is inhibited by
Table 1: Available NSAIDs in the United States and their usual dose
Generic name Usual dose
Selective COX-2 inhibitor
Celecoxib 100-200 mg day
Non selective COX-2 inhibitor
Aspirin 2.6-6 g day 4-5 divided doses
Diclofenac 50 mg BID
Diflunisal 0.25-0.75 g BID
Etodolac 200-300 mg BID-QID
Fenoprofen 300-600 mg QID
Flurbiprofen 100 mg BID-TID
Ibuprofen 200-800 mg QID
Indomethacin 25-50 mg TID-QID
Ketoprofen 75 mg TID
Meclofenamate 50-100 mg TID-QID
Mefenamic acid 250 mg QID
Meloxicam 7.5-15 mg OD
Nabumetone 500 mg BID
Naproxen 250-500 mg BID
Oxaprozin 600 mg OD
Piroxicam 10-20 mg OD
Sulindac 150-200 mg BID
Tolmetin 400-600 mg TID
Ketorolac IV or IM 30 mg q 6hr
(max 120 mg day
COX enzyme has two isoforms COX-1 and COX-2.
COX-1 is expressed in most tissues; it serves as a
housekeeping enzyme responsible for normal cell
homeostasis. COX-2 is expressed in a limited number
Am. Med. J. 3 (2): 115-123, 2012
of organs in a normal physiologic condition but its
expression is inducible with inflammation. The
discovery of the two isoforms of the COX enzyme lead
to the development of selective anti COX-2 NSAIDs
with the hope of a reduction in adverse effects, most
specifically gastrointestinal bleeding (Flower, 2003).
Naming the universal “safest” NSAID deems
difficult because each NSAID has its own different
adverse reaction profile; “safety” priorities should be
individualized based upon patient’s concurrent
illnesses. This review will discuss the potential adverse
reactions of both conventions (non-selective) and
selective NSAIDs according to specific organ systems.
Cardiovascular effect: During the last 10 years, the
adverse cardiovascular effects of selective COX-2
inhibitors have been a highly debated issue. In October
2004, rofecoxib was withdrawn from US and world
market after a randomized placebo-controlled trial
found that it increased the incidence of Myocardial
Infarction (MI) and sudden cardiac death (Bresalier et
al., 2005). Attention has now turned to the
cardiovascular safety profile of the remaining selective
COX-2 inhibitor (celecoxib) and non-selective
NSAIDs. McGettigan and Henry (2006) conducted a
meta-analysis of an observational study and found that
celecoxib at doses of less than or equal to 200 mg day
appeared to be safe and did a not significantly increase
the risk of MI and sudden cardiac death. Conventional
NSAIDs including ibuprofen, indomethacin and
piroxicam, also did not increase the cardiac risk. Of
significant concern from this meta-analysis is,
diclofenac statistically increased the risk of
cardiovascular events with a Relative Risk (RR) of 1.36
(95% CI 1.21-1.54). A possible explanation for the
disparate result is that diclofenac is the most selective
for COX-2 compared with other conventional NSAIDs.
This study also showed a slight cardioprotective effect
of naproxen but without statistical significance (Table
2). Another meta-analysis which included only
randomized data revealed the same increased cardiac
risk from diclofenac and revealed no significant
cardioprotective benefit from naproxen. However, this
study found a significant increased risk with a daily
dose of celecoxib more than or equal 400 mg (Kearnry
et al., 2006).
Use of NSAIDs can worsen pre-existing heart
disease. The risk of worsening heart failure is well
illustrated in an observational study which found that
all the NSAIDs in the study (rofecoxib, celecoxib,
ibuprofen, diclofenac and naproxen) significantly
increased the incidence of death and re-hospitalization
because of heart failure and/or MI (Gislason et al.,
2009). The mechanism by which NSAIDs can cause
exacerbation of heart failure is related to their
vasoconstrictive effect leading to systemic hypertension
resulting in increased afterload (Dzau et al., 1984).
Furthermore, non-aspirin NSAIDs can interfere
with the beneficial anti-platelet effect of aspirin.
Concomitant administration of reversible COX-1
inhibitors may prevent irreversible platelet inhibition by
low-dose aspirin, due to competition between theses
drug and aspirin for a common binding site on COX-1.
At least two of conventional NSAIDs (ibuprofen and
naproxen) have been found to have this drug interaction
in vitro. This pharmacodynamic interaction is not seen
with selective COX-2 inhibitor or with diclofenac,
which has some degree of COX-2 selectivity (Catella-
Lawson et al., 2001; Capone et al., 2005). Whether this
interaction attenuates the cardioprotective benefit of
low-dose aspirin is unclear (Corman et al., 2005;
Rodiguez et al., 2004).
In conclusion, based on available data from the
mentioned study, NSAIDs should be avoided in patients
with MI or heart failure. In patients with lower cardiac
risk, NSAIDs might be used with caution with the
lowest effective dose and shortest possible duration.
Diclofenac should be avoided given the clear evidence
of increase incidence of MI and sudden cardiac death.
The only available selective COX-2 inhibitor,
Celecoxib, appears to be safe with the daily dose of not
more than 200 mg day
. Naproxen might be considered
for use in this group of patients given its slight
cardioprotective benefit, though this consideration is
based on data which lack statistical significance.
Gastrointestinal effects: Aspirin and other non-selective
NSAIDs are well-known for their gastrointestinal
toxicities ranging from asymptomatic mucosal injury to
fatal upper GI bleeding. The toxicity comes from the
mode of action of COX-1 inhibition. COX-1 is
constitutively expressed in gastric and duodenal mucosa
and is responsible for mucoprotective prostaglandins
synthesis. As a result of COX-1 inhibition and
subsequent reduction of prostaglandins synthesis, gastric
and duodenal mucosa which appears to be more
vulnerable to luminal acid and pepsin (Cryer and
Feldman, 1998; Jick, 1981). These gastrointestinal
toxicities result in more than 100,000 hospital admissions
and 7,000-10,000 deaths per year in the United States.
Aspirin, which is now widely used for coronary
artery disease treatment and prevention, can cause
significant gastric mucosa damage even at very low
doses. One study in healthy human subjects found that
aspirin at a dose of 10 mg day
mucosal prostaglandins to 40% of baseline level and
induced significant gastric mucosa injury (Cryer and
Feldman, 1999). Several epidemiological and placebo-
controlled studies showed the dose-response
relationship between clinically significant gastric events
and the dose of aspirin (Jick, 1981; Farrell et al., 1991;
Weil et al., 1995; Singh and Triadafilopoulos 1999).
Am. Med. J. 3 (2): 115-123, 2012
Table 2: Relative risk and 95% confidence interval on cardiovascular events for each NSAID (adapted from Mcgettigan et al., 2006)
Celecoxib Rofecoxib Meloxicam* Naproxen Diclofenac Ibuprofen Piroxicam
Relative risk 1. 06 1.35 1.25 0.97 1.4 1.07 1.06
95% confidence interval 0. 91-1.23 1.15-1.59 1.00-1.55 0.87-1.07 1.16-1.70 0.97-1.18 0.70-1.59
*Data of meloxicam is largely based upon one single study and cannot reliably lead to any conclusion
Table 3: Relative risk and 95% confidence interval on GI complications from two systematic reviews
Study Diclofenac Ibuprofen Indomethacin Naproxen Piroxicam Sulindac Meloxicam
Hernandez-Diaz and 3.3 1.9 4.6 4 6.3 3.6 NA
(2.8-3.9) (1.6-2.2) (3.8-5.5) (3.5-4.6) (5.5-7.2) (2.8-4.7)
Richy et al. (2004) 1.7 1.2 2.3 1.8 1.7 NA 1.2
(1.2-2.5) (0.9-1.5) (1.0-5.1) (1.2-2.6) (1.1-2.4) (1.0-1.6)
Table 4: NSAIDs GI toxicity risk stratification (adapted from Lanza
et al., 2009)
History of previous complicated ulcer,
Multiple (>2) risk factors
Age >65 years
(1-2 risk factors)
High dose NSAID therapy
A previous history of uncomplicated ulcer
Concurrent use of aspirin (including low-dose),
corticosteroid or anticoagulant
Low risk No risk factors
In contrast to irreversible COX inhibition of aspirin, most
NSAIDs inhibit COX-1 and COX-2 reversibly.
Nevertheless, transient COX-1 inhibition is sufficient to
make gastric mucosa vulnerable to injury (Silverstein et
al., 2000). The risks of upper GI toxicity associated with
non-selective NSAIDs have been extensively studied. A
meta-analysis of observational studies has shown that the
risk of upper GI complications is increased 4-fold among
NSAIDs users, with the highest risk during the first
month of treatment (Hernandez-Diaz and Garcia-
Rodriguez, 2000). Risk factors for NSAIDs-related
bleeding include age > 60 years, high-dose NSAID
treatment, a previous history of peptic ulcer, concurrent
use of low-dose aspirin, anti-coagulants or steroids and
H. pylori infection (Hernandez-Diaz and Garcia-
Rodriguez, 2000; Huang et al., 2002)
From the same meta-analysis, ibuprofen was
associated with the lowest risk, followed by diclofenac,
sulindac, naproxen, indomethacin and ketoprofen, while
piroxicam conferred the highest risk (Hernandez-Diaz
and Garcia-Rodriguez, 2000). Another meta-analysis of
controlled trials revealed similar results. This study
found that ibuprofen and meloxicam were the only
commonly used non-selective NSAIDs that did not
significantly increase the risk of bleeding while
indomethacin provided the highest risk for GI
complication, followed by naproxen, diclofenac and
piroxicam as illustrated in Table 3 (Richy et al., 2004).
Selective COX-2 inhibitor has been developed to
overcome the gastrointestinal toxicities of non-selective
NSAIDs. Several studies have shown favorable safety
profile of this selective NSAID with respect to upper GI
bleeding. A systematic review of randomized controlled
trials has shown that COX-2 selective inhibitors
produced significantly fewer gastroduodenal ulcers and
clinically important ulcer complications compared with
non-selective NSAIDs (Rostom et al., 2007). However,
the co-administration of low-dose aspirin significantly
reduced this safety advantage (Rostom et al., 2007;
Singh et al., 2006). However, concerns raised regarding
cardiovascular adverse effects of selective COX-2
inhibitor have limited their clinical use.
A number of clinical trials have studied a variety of
options to prevent gastroduodenal ulcer and bleeding in
the patients indicated for NSAIDs. Two meta-analyses of
placebo-controlled studies found that the risk of
symptomatic ulcer was significantly reduced by Proton
Pump Inhibitors (PPI), misoprostol and COX-2 inhibitors
(Rostom et al., 2002; Koch et al., 1996). The evidence
for the effectiveness of Histamine-2 Receptor
Antagonists (H2RA) is still unclear. The same meta-
analysis revealed no gastric ulcer prevention benefit of a
standard dose of H2RA (Koch et al., 1996) but some
studies showed a decrease in gastric ulcer incidence with
double-dose H2RA. However, these studies were short-
term (12-24 weeks) and focused on endoscopic finding
rather than clinical endpoints (Taha et al., 1996; 2009).
In 2009, the American College of Gastroenterology
issued an official guideline for prevention of NSAID-
related ulcer complications. This guideline emphasizes
on balancing between patient’s cardiovascular risk and
GI toxicity risk. Patients are stratified into low,
moderate and high GI toxicity risk based upon the
number of risk factors they have as illustrated in Table
4. Cardiovascular risk is arbitrarily categorized into low
and high risk based upon the patients’ need to use low-
dose aspirin to prevent serious cardiovascular events.
These recommendations are summarized in Table 5.
In general, patient with low cardiac risk and
without GI risk factors can use non-selective NSAID
alone without protective measures. The least
ulcerogenic NSAIDs like ibuprofen and meloxicam are
Am. Med. J. 3 (2): 115-123, 2012
preferable. In the patient without GI risk factors but is
at high risk for cardiovascular events, naproxen is
preferred based upon their more favorable cardiac
safety profile. In this group of patient, protective
measure either PPI or misoprostal should be employed
because naproxen confers more considerable GI
toxicity compared with ibuprofen.
A patient who is classified as moderate risk should
have mucoprotective agent, either PPI or mesoprostal,
while using conventional NSAIDs. If a patient has low
cardiac risk, COX-2 inhibitor alone can be used as an
alternative. Again, naproxen is the preferable if the
patient has high cardiac risk. For the patient who is
at high risk for both GI and cardiac event, NSAIDs
should be entirely avoided. If the patient has only
high GI risk but has low cardiac risk, COX-2
inhibitor plus PPI or mesoprostal can be used with
caution (Lanza et al., 2009).
In addition, Helicobacter pylori infection is another
independent risk factor. Several studies suggest that H.
pylori infection increases the risk of peptic ulcer disease
in patients taking NSAIDs (Chan, 2001; Bazzoli et al.,
2001 ; Huang et al., 2002) and eradication of H. pylori
decreased the incidence of NSAID-related ulcer
(Hawkey et al., 1998; Chan et al., 2001). Based on
these evidences, it is advisable that all the patients who
require long-term NSAIDs should be tested and treated
for H. Pylori.
Hepatotoxicity: Hepatic adverse reaction is relatively
uncommon. The incidence of serious reaction requiring
hospitalization ranges from 3-23 cases per 100,000
person-year (Rodriguez et al., 1992; Traversa et al.,
2003). Hepatotoxicity from NSAIDs (except for
aspirin) appears to be idiosyncratic and can present with
either hepatocellular or cholestatic pattern (Rubenstein
and Laine, 2004). Nimesulide, which has never been
approved by FDA and not available in the United
States, is particularly associated with increased risk of
hepatic injury. A recent large cohort study showed that
only nimesulide significantly increased the risk of
hepatic injury while other NSAIDs in the study,
including diclofenac, piroxicam, ketoprofen, ketorolac,
ibuprofen, naproxen, celecoxib, meloxicam,
cinnoxicam and flurbiprofen, tended to increase the risk
but without statistical significance (Traversa et al.,
2003). Another large case-control trial which studied on
diclofenac, piroxicam, ibuprofen, naproxen, celecoxib
and meloxicam showed that only sulindac significantly
increased the incidence of hepatitis required
hospitalization while the rest tended to increase the
incidence but, again, without statistical significance
(Gutthann and Rodigruez, 1993).
In the light of evidence of risk of hepatotoxicity
and availability of alternative NSAIDs, nimesulide and
sulindac should not be prescribed especially in patient
with known liver disease such as chronic viral hepatitis,
concurrent use of other hepatotoxic medications
including alcohol and cirrhosis.
Nephrotoxicity: One of the most recognized adverse
effects of NSAIDs is nephrotoxicity. Inhibition of COX
can lead to renal impairment and dysregulation of water
and electrolyte homeostasis. COX regulates renal
hemodynamics, Glomerular Filtration Rate (GFR) and
mediates salt and water excretion. Prostaglandins,
generated through the action of COX, dilate the renal
vascular bed, lower renal vascular resistance and
increase renal perfusion (Dunn et al., 1998). However,
they play only a minor role in maintaining renal blood
flow in healthy persons. These prostaglandins will be
critically important in maintaining the GFR in the
situation of decreased effective circulatory volume.
Thus, inhibiting prostaglandins by NSAIDs can
contribute to a further decrease in overall renal
perfusion causing renal impairment (Patrono and Dunn,
1987). Nevertheless, these renal effects are usually
completely reversible following prompt discontinuation
of the offending NSAIDs.
COX-2 inhibitors appear to have similar renal
effects as nonselective NSAIDs and do not offer any
renal safety benefits over nonselective NSAIDs. A
recent large nested case-control study demonstrated a
comparable relative risk of acute renal failure among
rofecoxib user (RR = 2.31), naproxen user (RR = 2.42)
and other nonselective NSAIDs user (RR = 2.30)
though the relative risk of celecoxib was marginally
lower (RR =1. 54) (Schneider et al., 2006).
Although there is no large epidemiological study to
compare the relative risk of NSAIDs, low dose over-
the-counter ibuprofen appears to be safe in most healthy
subjects (Mann et al., 1993). Sulindac has its unique
metabolic pathway that may spare renal oxygenase by
oxidizing sulindac sulfide to an inactive metabolite in
the kidney. Nonetheless, this capacity varies between
individuals, which may explain conflicting reports on
the effects of sulindac on urinary prostaglandins and
renal function (Brandli et al., 1991).
Acute Interstitial Nephritis (AIN) is another
common renal adverse effect. The mechanism by which
NSAIDs can induce AIN is not well understood. One
explanation is that inhibition of COX causes
preferential conversion of arachidonic acid to
leukotrienes resulting in helper T-cell activation and
inflammation. Affected patients typically present with
markedly elevated serum creatinine and proteinuria that
occur several months after the introduction of NSAIDs.
Renal function usually improves within 1-3 months
after discontinuing the drug (Brezin et al., 1979).
Am. Med. J. 3 (2): 115-123, 2012
Table 5: Summary of recommendations for prevention of NSAIDs-related ulcer complications (adapted from Lanza et al., 2009)
Low Moderate High
Low CV risk NSAID alone (the
least ulcerogenic NSAID SAID + PPI or Alternative therapy if possible or
at the lowest
effective dose) misoprostal COX-2
inhibitor + PPI or misoprostal
High CV risk Naproxen + PPI or
misoprostal Naproxen + PPI or Avoid NSAIDs and
Misoprostal use alternative
Table 6: Relative risk and 95% confidence interval on cerebrovascular events from observational studies (adapted from Roumie et al., 2008)
Study N stokes Celecoxib Rofecoxib Naproxen Ibuprofen Diclofenac Indomethacin
Bak et al. (2003)
Hemorrhagic 867 NA NA 0.8 (0.3-2.1) 1.3 (0.9-2.0) 1.3 (0.6-2.8) 1.3 (0.5-3.7)
Bak et al. (2003) Ischemic 2171 NA NA 0.7 (0.4- 1.1) 1.3 (1.0- 1.6) 1.1 (0.7- 1.7) 1.4 (0.8-2.4)
Andersohn et al. (2006) 3094 1.07 (0.79 -1.44) 1.71 (1.33 -2.18) 1.16 (0.80 -1.70) 1.12 (0.91 -1.37) 1.32 (1.10 -1.57) NA
Solomon et al. (2006) 3552 1.00 (0.92 -1.09 1.15 (1.04 -1.26) 0.83 (0.67 -1.04) 0.95 (0.78 -1.16) 0.98 (0.75 -1.29) NA
Lee et al. (2007) 4787 0.97 (0.68 - 1.37) 1.45 (1.10 -1.92) 1.15 (1.01 -1.31) 1.11 (0.99 -1.25) 1.24 (0.95 -1.63) 1.13 (0.86-1.50)
Roumie et al. (2008) 4354 1.12 (0.83 -1.52) 1.46 (1.08 -1.98) 1.02 (0.73 -1.42) 1.26 (0.87 -1.81) 0.31 (0.04 -2.18) 1.29 (0.53-3.09)
Virtually all NSAIDs can cause AIN but fenoprofen
appears to be associated with a higher risk. It is
responsible for 47% of AIN caused by NSAIDs in a
case series (Porile et al., 1990).
Nephrotic syndrome is also well-known to be
associated with the use of NSAIDs. Renal pathology
typically reveals minimal change disease though
membranous nephropathy has been reported (Warren
et al., 1989; Radford et al., 1996). Papillary necrosis,
though rare nowadays, is the only permanent
complication of NSAIDs and usually occurs after
NSAIDs can interfere with normal electrolyte and
water homeostasis but usually without significant
clinical outcomes. NSAIDs reduces sodium excretion
and blunt the diuretic effect of loop diuretics, but these
effects are usually mild and subclinical (Clive and
Stoff, 1984). NSAIDs attenuate the release of renin and
hence reduce aldosterone production, results in
decrease potassium excretion. The risks of
hyperkalemia are further potentiated by renal
dysfunction, diabetes, congestive heart failure and the
use of potassium supplement, ACE inhibitors and/or
potassium sparing diuretics (Whelton and Hamilton,
1991). Last, long term use of NSAIDs can slightly
increase mean arterial pressure by 5 mmHg and
interfere with several antihypertensive medications
such as diuretics, beta-blockers and ACE inhibitors
(Johnson et al., 1994).
Central nervous system: The same study that has led
to withdrawal of rofecoxib from worldwide market also
revealed an increased incidence of stroke among
rofecoxib users though without statistical significance
(Bresalier et al., 2005). Subsequent observational
studies showed a significant increase of cerebrovascular
risk among rofecoxib user and did not show any
significant increase of the risk among celecoxib user
(Andersohn et al., 2006; Solomon et al. 2006; Lee et
al., 2007; Roumie et al., 2008). The results regarding
conventional non-aspirin NSAIDs were less consistent.
Though the majority of studies did not show any
increased risk for either ischemic or hemorrhagic stroke
with the use of any conventional non-aspirin NSAIDs
(Bak et al., 2003; Solomon et al., 2006; Roumie et al.,
2008) Andersohn et al. (2006) reported an increased
risk for ischemic stroke with the use of diclofenac and
Lee et al. (2007) reported an increased risk for
cerebrovascular events among users of naproxen.
Result from these studies are summarized in Table 6.
In addition to cerebrovascular events, NSAIDs
can cause other CNS adverse effects. Aseptic
meningitis is the infrequent adverse effect of NSAID.
It is found most commonly in patients with lupus
treated with ibuprofen, but it should be considered in
any patient with meningitis if the patient has used
NSAIDs. Psychosis and cognitive impairment in
association with NSAIDs use have been reported,
particularly in elderly patient started on a regimen of
indomethacin. Thus, NSAIDs (especially
indomethacin) should be prescribed with caution in
this population with close attention to mental status
changes (Hoppmann et al., 1991).
Hematologic effect: The most significant hematologic
effect of NSAID use is the anti-platelet by inhibition of
COX-1 which is responsible for Thromboxane A2
(TXA2) production. TXA2 is synthesized and released
by platelets in response to a variety of stimuli and
provides a mechanism for amplifying the platelet
response leading to platelet aggregation (Hamburg et
al., 1975). This anti-platelet effect of TXA2 inhibition
provides therapeutic applications for thrombosis
prevention in patients with coronary artery disease or
peripheral vascular disease. Selective COX-2 inhibitors
have minimal to no effect on platelet function since
matured platelet expresses only COX-1.
Am. Med. J. 3 (2): 115-123, 2012
In the patient with thrombocytopenia (platelet
count < 50,000/microL) or platelet dysfunction, non-
selective NSAIDs should be avoided; COX-2 inhibitors
are considered as a safer option. Conventional NSAIDs
should be discontinued four to five times their half-life
before surgery to avoid an increased intra-operative and
post-operative bleeding risk. Aspirin should be
discontinued at least one week before surgery to allow
the bone marrow to produce new platelets.
Neutropenia, although uncommon, is another
adverse hematologic effect from NSAID use. A case-
control study showed a significant increase in incidence
of neutropenia among NSAID users, although no single
class of NSAID or any individual NSAIDs was
associated with a unique risk.
Cutaneous reaction: NSAIDs can cause several kinds of
drug eruptions ranging from a mild pruritic rash to more
severe skin reactions such as Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis
(TEN) and Steven Johnson Syndrome (SJS). The true
incidence of skin reactions related to NSAIDs is difficult
to estimate, as these medications are commonly
purchased over-the-counter, with minor skin side effects
going quite often underreported. However, in one
prospective study of nearly 20,000 inpatients who were
prescribed NSAIDs, 0.3% of the participants were found
to have a NSAIDs-related skin reaction. Maculopapular
rash was the most common skin reaction, followed by
urticaria, angioedema, serum sickness syndromes and
erythema nodosum (Kaiser et al., 1987).
Hypersensitivity reaction is a unique skin condition
caused by NSAIDs. Symptoms include facial
angioedema, urticaria, conjunctivitis as well as
respiratory symptoms such as rhinorrhea, cough and
bronchospasm. Again, one explanation is that inhibition
of COX-1 leads to a shunting of arachidonic acid
metabolism, causing overproduction of leukotrienes
consequently resulting in allergy-like effects (Keane et
al., 1984). However, the reasons why only a certain
number of people react to NSAIDs are not completely
clear. The known predisposing factors putting certain
people at risk for skin reactions include an atopic
diathesis, female sex, young adulthood, chronic
urticaria and the use of the NSAIDS for the relief of
acute pain (Sanchez-Borges et al., 2002). Drugs that
inhibit COX-2 with higher specificity than classic
NSAIDs are more tolerated by the majority of classic
NSAID-sensitive patients. Nevertheless,
hypersensitivity reactions have been reported with
COX-2 inhibitors as well (Dona et al., 2011).
Pseudoporphyria is a photosensitive reaction of
skin with tense bullae and erosions which is clinically
indistinguishable from true cutaneous porphyria tarda.
However, there is no abnormality detected in porphyrin
metabolism with pseudoporphyria. It has been found to
be associated with several NSAIDs, including
naproxen, nabumetone and ketoprofen (Green and
Manders, 2001). This reaction is believed to be caused
by the photosensitizing drug that behaves in a similar
fashion to photoactivated endogenous porphyrins and
target similar structures in the skin (Zelickson, 1964).
With regards to severe skin reactions, the risk of SJS
and TEN caused by NSAIDs is extremely low, which is
less than 1-2 per 1 million users per week. Oxicam
derivatives appear to have the greatest association with
SJS and TEN (Ward et al., 2010). There is also a strong
association between SJS/TEN and the use of the
sulfonamide COX-2 inhibitors, particularly valdecoxib
(Grenade et al., 2005). Aspirin is not associated with a
measurable increase in the risk of these rare but severe
reactions (Kaufman and Kelly, 2001).
As with most drug-induced skin reactions, the best
approach to the management of NSAD-induced skin
reactions is to withdraw the trigger medication. This
sometimes results in resolution of the rash, although
this may take some months and is often not universal.
Pulmonary effect: Non-aspirin NSAIDs rarely causes
adverse pulmonary effects, though they can precipitate
acute exacerbations of airway inflammation in patients
with Aspirin Exacerbated Respiratory Disease (AERD).
AERD is characterized by persistent and severe
inflammation of the upper and lower respiratory tracts
manifested as asthma and chronic rhinosinusitis with
nasal polyposis inducible by aspirin or NSAIDs
ingestion. This reaction is directly related to COX-1
inhibition; selective COX-2 inhibitors are much less
likely to trigger AERD (Palikhe et al., 2009).
Selecting the most appropriate NSAIDs for each
patient should be tailored to each individual patient
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