Harvard Health Letter

NSAIDs: topicals vs. pills for pain

Topical nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can bring weeks of pain relief. The drug stays close to the site of application, so levels in the blood and more remote tissues remain low. That makes topical NSAIDs less risky than oral NSAIDs, which can cause stomach ulcers and bleeding, liver and kidney damage, and increased risk of heart attacks if used long-term. Topicals are best for people who have occasional joint pain, when other methods of treatment have failed.
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