Over the counter medications to avoid for gastrointestinal health

November 28, 2014 LuLu Iles-Shih, MD

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are medications frequently used to treat general aches and pains like headaches, musculoskeletal, and joint pains. NSAIDs include Celebrex, Aspirin, Ibuprofen, Excedrin, Alleve, Advil, Diclofenac, and Naproxen.

However, these medications may cause harm to the gastrointestinal system: possible bleeding risks, ulcer formation, ischemia, or decreased blood flow to certain areas of the gastrointestinal system which can lead to increased bleeding, vomiting of blood, or blood in the stool. These medications should be avoided to prevent gastrointestinal issues.

Unfortunately, use of NSAIDs on a daily basis is required for medical issues, such as arthritis. Similarly for patients with heart disease, a cardiologist may recommend a daily baby aspirin for heart protection, which can also increase the chances for gastrointestinal bleeding. Additionally, use of prednisone or steroids along with NSAIDs may increase the chances of gastrointestinal bleeding and are potentially lethal when used in combination. Depending on the patient's overall medical profile including a gastrointestinal bleeding risk assessment, it may be in a person's best interest to take a proton pump inhibitor, such as omeprazole. Taking a proton pump inhibitor may help prevent formation of an ulcer or gastrointestinal bleeding issues.

For gastrointestinal health, the safest over the counter medication for management of pain is acetaminophen, also known as Tylenol. Although acetaminophen may be less wearing on gastrointestinal system, one should only take this medication as instructed because too much acetaminophen may cause harm to the liver.

If you have any questions about medications you are taking, make sure to talk to your health care provider.

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