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How do I take NSAIDs and how long do they take to work?

Back to Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

NSAIDs are usually taken as tablets or capsules but some are available as:

  • liquids
  • suppositories, which you insert into the back passage
  • creams or gels, which you apply to the affected area.

You should take NSAID tablets or capsules with a glass of water, with or shortly after food and as directed by your doctor. Some NSAIDs, especially slow-release types, are only taken once a day. Others are taken 2–4 times a day. If you’re taking prescribed NSAIDs your doctor will advise you on the correct dose to take. You’ll probably be prescribed a low dose to start off with, which can then be increased if necessary.

Your doctor will prescribe the lowest effective dose of NSAIDs (including coxibs) for the shortest period of time to reduce the risk of side-effects.

Your doctor or pharmacist will be able to advise you on taking over-the-counter NSAIDs. Ibuprofen is available in doses of 200–400 mg and can be taken up to three times a day. Diclofenac tablets are no longer available over the counter. 

If your symptoms continue for more than three days without relief, you should stop taking the NSAIDs and see your doctor.

NSAID creams and gels (topical NSAIDs)

A number of NSAIDs are available as creams or gels, which you apply directly to the affected area if the pain is localised. Some (for example, ibuprofen, diclofenac) are available over the counter while others (for example, ketoprofen) are only available on prescription.

NSAID gels may be a good option if tablets tend to affect your stomach. However, some of the drug is still absorbed into the bloodstream. You should therefore be careful not to use too much gel, especially if you're also taking NSAID tablets, as this may increase the risk of side-effects.

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Back to Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
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