One of the categories of drugs most frequently used by the elderly, and probably the most commonly self-prescribed class of drug in this age group, is NSAIDs. However, NSAIDs are one of the primary causes of adverse drug reactions and are notorious for their gastric toxicity. They also inhibit renal function and reduce the efficacy of diuretics and ACE inhibitors, drugs that are commonly used by elderly patients. Recent studies have shown that cyclo-oxygenase (COX)-2 is important in renal physiology. This means that selective COX-2 inhibitors, while undoubtedly safer than NSAIDs in terms of gastric toxicity, are not devoid of renal toxicity (in addition to their now clearly established adverse effects on coronary heart disease risk). Both the gastric and renal toxicities induced by traditional NSAIDs and selective COX-2 inhibitors seem to be related to inhibition of prostaglandin, but not leukotriene, synthesis. Maintaining the correct balance between prostaglandins and leukotrienes is essential for continuing good health, but both classes of mediators also play an important role in the pathogenesis of several diseases.Recently, a new class of anti-inflammatory drugs, the lipoxygenase (LOX)/COX inhibitors, has been developed as a means of simultaneously inhibiting the synthesis of prostaglandins, thromboxanes and leukotrienes. Inhibition of leukotriene synthesis increases anti-inflammatory efficacy, particularly in rheumatic diseases, while reducing the risk of gastric damage. The LOX/COX inhibitor licofelone, which is currently in phase III trials, is the first of this new class and in the most advanced stage of development. Preliminary data with this drug seem promising, but further well designed clinical trials of this agent in the elderly will be necessary before a final evaluation is possible.
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