Over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and risk of gastrointestinal symptoms

Am J Gastroenterol. 2002 Sep;97(9):2215-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1572-0241.2002.05974.x.


Objective: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are among the most commonly used medications. Although much is known about prescription NSAIDs and risk of GI side effects, little is known about over-the-counter (OTC) NSAIDs and their risk of GI side effects. The aim of this study was to estimate use of OTC NSAIDs, GI side effects, and professional and self-care for these side effects.

Methods: We conducted a telephone survey of an age-stratified U.S. random sample of 535 persons at least 40 yr old, who used an OTC NSAID for 4 of the previous 7 days, and a matched comparison population of 1068 persons who used no NSAID within the previous 30 days. We measured current use of OTC NSAIDs, GI symptoms, diagnoses and their treatment, and prescription and OTC GI medications.

Results: The most commonly used OTC NSAID was aspirin (alone or in combination compounds). Prevention of myocardial infarction or stroke was the most common reason for use (43.2%), followed by all forms of pain relief (44.2%) and relief of arthritis symptoms (24.5%). NSAID users were twice as likely as nonusers to report GI side effects (19.6% vs 9.5%, p = 0.0001), and more than twice as likely to use an OTC GI medication when they had GI symptoms (46.7% vs 20.8%, p = 0.001).

Conclusions: OTC NSAIDs are not a benign medication even at low dosages. Physicians may be unaware that patients self-medicate with OTC NSAIDs and for GI side effects with additional OTC GI medications. Therefore, physicians should routinely ask patients about all forms of self-treatment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal / adverse effects*
  • Female
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases / chemically induced*
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases / therapy*
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nonprescription Drugs / adverse effects*
  • Odds Ratio
  • Random Allocation
  • Risk Assessment
  • Time Factors


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal
  • Nonprescription Drugs