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What Is Naproxen?

naproxen
Naproxen is commonly used to treat the symptoms of arthritis.
CREDIT: MILA Zed / Shutterstock.com

People with arthritis might know the painkiller naproxen by its commercial name, Aleve. Also sold as Anaprox and Midol Extended Relief, naproxen helps treat the inflammation, swelling, pain and stiffness of arthritis.

The drug belongs to a class of medicines called NSAIDs, which stands for nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Other NSAIDs include aspirin and ibuprofen.

Like all NSAIDs, naproxen eases pain by fighting inflammation, the familiar response to bodily harm that entails swelling, redness, heat and pain. (The name NSAIDs differentiates these medicines from steroids, which also fight inflammation.) Unlike morphine and related opiate-based painkillers, naproxen and other NSAIDs do not have the potential for addiction or abuse.

Doctors most often recommend naproxen to treat arthritis (the drug is sold over the counter, so no prescription is needed). Neither naproxen nor any other painkiller can actually "cure" arthritis, though; they only treat the pain and other symptoms. Naproxen also treats pain from conditions such as tendonitis and menstrual cramps.

The NSAIDs all have about the same effectiveness, but they do pose different levels of risk. Except for aspirin, all NSAIDs raise the risk of heart attacks and stroke, with naproxen carrying the lowest risk. Many NSAIDs can also cause stomach ulcers and intestinal bleeding. Naproxen has been linked to higher rates of bleeding in the upper gastrointestinal tract than other NSAIDs.

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