OBJECTIVE: Published and regulatory advice is to take NSAIDs with fluids and/or food irrespective whether NSAIDs are taken over the counter or long-term. The basis for this recommendation is not clear and we sought to establish the reasons for it through a search of published literature and personal files.
RESULTS: Results from experimental animals show that fasting increases the gastric side effects of NSAIDs while food increases small bowel damage, but this has not been tested in humans. The possible effects of food in modifying the gastric damage caused by NSAIDs are complex, as food quantity and composition modify the responses substantially. Food usually delays peak levels of NSAIDs (and hence onset of action) without affecting total bioavailability. This may not be important when a steady state is achieved, but rapid onset of action is highly relevant for over-the-counter use of NSAIDs. The safety of over-the-counter use of ibuprofen and naproxen appears to be excellent and comparable with paracetamol.
CONCLUSION: The rapid onset of action of NSAIDs is most important during over-the-counter use, in which case it may be more appropriate to take the drugs on a fasting stomach.
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