The drugs attack enzymes inside cell membranes, and can cause side effects in different parts of the body, say researchers at the Johns Hopkins University school of medicine.
They tested the activity of three prescription NSAIDs-flurbiprofen, indomethacin and sulindac-on human cells.
The effect was greatest if the drug was administered for lengthy periods or at high doses. Common over-the-counter painkillers-that you can buy without a prescription-didn't have the same damaging effects on enzymes.
Drug manufacturers need to think about the effects on cell membranes when they develop new drugs, the researchers recommend. Otherwise, patients may suffer a wide range of side effects and never suspect the drug was the culprit.
(Source: Cell Reports, 2014; doi: 10.1016/j.celrep.2014.07.039)