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NSAID use may be high among some athletes who don't always know about potential side effects

January 27, 2011|By Jeannine Stein, Los Angeles Times
  • Some triathletes may rely on NSAIDs to tamp down pain after a race, or to prevent it from starting.
Some triathletes may rely on NSAIDs to tamp down pain after a race, or to prevent… (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles…)

The use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs is common among some recreational, elite and professional athletes who use it before, during and after being active to reduce pain and inflammation or nip it in the bud before it starts.

A study finds that NSAID use among some triathletes may be high, although users might not always be aware of the drugs' side effects. Researchers from Brazil and South Africa surveyed participants of the 2008 Brazil Ironman Triathlon about their use of the drugs. NSAIDs include aspirin, ibuprofen (known over the counter as Advil and Motrin) and naproxen sodium (Aleve).

Of the 1,250 athletes who competed in the event, 327 took part in the study, published in the February issue of the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

Researchers found that 59.9% of those surveyed said they used the drugs in the past three months. Of those, 25.5% used them the day before the race, 17.9% used them immediately before the race, and 47.4% used them during the race.

Despite the high use, many athletes who consumed NSAIDs were not aware of all the possible side effects. Among 196 users, 63.8% knew about potential gastrointestinal complications, but only 31.1% were aware of possible renal complications, 20.9% about kidney failure and 26% about stomach bleeding.

Among NSAID users, 48.5% took them without having a prescription. The main reason athletes used the drugs in the three months prior to the triathlon was to treat injuries, but the main motive for using it during the race was pain prevention.

"The results of the present study," wrote the authors, "suggest the need for the inclusion of educational devices, such as talks and folders on the use of NSAIDs, in the planning of long distance triathlon races, in order to make athletes aware of the risks and benefits that these drugs offer."

In another study in the same journal, researchers looked into NSAID use among athletes in the 2007 Pan-American games. Among 1,261 athletes tested, 63% reported drug use. Of those, 64% use NSAIDs, which were the most frequently used medications.

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