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 many are available in the following forms:

  • 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 3 or 4 times a day. Diclofenac is currently available over the counter, but this is under review and would not usually be the best choice without advice from your doctor. If your symptoms continue for more than three days without relief, you should stop taking the NSAIDs and see your doctor.

Aspirin is not usually recommended as an anti-inflammatory now, although low-dose aspirin can be helpful for other conditions such as circulatory problems.

NSAID creams and gels (topical NSAIDs)

NSAID creams and gels are applied directly to the affected part of the body. Some (for example, ibuprofen, diclofenac) are available over the counter while others (for example, ketoprofen) are only available on prescription. Topical NSAIDs can be helpful if you find it difficult to take tablets, but some of the drug is still absorbed into the bloodstream. You should therefore be careful not to use too much gel, especially if you are also taking NSAID tablets, as this may increase the risk of side-effects.

How long do NSAIDs take to work?

NSAIDs work quickly, usually within a few hours, although it can take two or more weeks for you to feel the full effect of prescribed NSAIDs.

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

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