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Origins and impact of the term ‘NSAID’


This article is an historical investigation of the term non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and its acronym NSAIDs. Drug names and categories tend to be taken at face value in everyday practice, as natural categories existing in their own right. The main argument of this article is that the term NSAID is a reminder that drug names and categories are complex cultural and social products that have been created by specific people, for specific purposes, through specific historical processes, and that this is relevant for their use today. The article locates the first appearances of the phrase non-steroidal at the entry to the 1960s, when the iatrogenic tragedies that followed from the introduction of corticosteroids had become apparent, and where a clear separation between these drugs and emerging anti-inflammatory alternatives was needed. The article then shows how both the phrase and the acronym appeared for the first time out of specific textual contexts in publications by Michael W. Whitehouse, before they were taken up by a wider community and transformed into concepts independent on the context of their first appearances.

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  1. 1.

    The Editors thank Professor Ludmila Filaretova, St Petersburg for her knowledge on the original scientific discovery of corticosteroids.

  2. 2.

    More than two decades should pass before the term disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drug (DMARD) was coined.

  3. 3.

    Personal communication May 2014.

  4. 4.

    For details on this, see “Anti-inflammatory glucocorticoid drugs: reflections after 60 years” (Whitehouse 2011).

  5. 5.

    See Fig. 1.


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I am heavily indebted to Professor Michael Whitehouse and Professor KD Rainsford for encouraging an historical commentary on this topic, and for providing informational fixed points that allowed me to make the step from speculations to facts. Thanks to Professor Whitehouse for sharing his memories and insights about the origin of the term, and for proofreading my analysis. Thanks also to Professor KD Rainsford for checking for other early appearances in rheumatological literature from the period, including several of Derek Willoughby’s papers and more (Gourley 1964; Rechenberg and Kunz 1962; Dixon et al. 1963; Smith and Smith 1966). Thanks to Professor KD Rainsford’s verifications, it seems even safer to identify Michael Whitehouse as the originator of the term “non-steroidal anti-inflammatory” drugs, as well as of the NSAID acronym. Any misinterpretations or other mistakes are entirely mine. I will be thankful to anyone who points this out for me. I also want to underscore that the identification of Michael Whitehouse as originator of the terms is based on my investigations as well as KD Rainsford’s verifications, and that Michael Whitehouse has not made any claims on his own behalf; he has merely contributed with a personal account that does not contradict, but supports, the hypothesis.

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Correspondence to Jonas Kure Buer.

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Buer, J.K. Origins and impact of the term ‘NSAID’. Inflammopharmacol 22, 263–267 (2014).

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  • History
  • Drug names
  • Drug categories
  • Communication