On a daily basis it appears that as many as one in five adults in the United States may consume an analgesic compound either on a prescription basis or by over-the-counter (OTC) purchase. This high profile of intermittent or repetitive analgesic use appears to be relatively similar throughout the developed world. Although analgesics generally have a good renal safety profile, the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) analgesics may produce mild renal side effects, such as the generation of peripheral edema in up to 5% of the general population. Other more serious renal and related cardiovascular side effects tend to be more apparent in lesser numbers of clinically "at risk" NSAID analgesic users. In contrast, non-NSAID analgesics, such as paracetamol or tramadol, have essentially no renal or related cardiovascular side effects when used at recommended dosing schedules. This review characterizes the renal syndromes associated with the use of NSAID analgesics, identifies the risks inherent in the use of these compounds in treated patients with hypertension and congestive heart failure, summarizes the early comparable data available for the new COX-2-specific inhibitors, and profiles the scant acute and long-term clinical concerns attendant with the use of non-NSAID nonnarcotic analgesics. It is important that healthcare providers and practitioners are aware of the relative renal risks of different analgesics and that they use this knowledge to counsel the analgesic-consuming population appropriately.