Pain Medication-Is it worth it?
With all the hullabaloo surrounding the unwanted effects of pain medication, its only normal that you treat your over-the-counter(OTC) medicines with suspicion. A little basic knowledge, therefore, can help the average consumer make an informed decision and avoid the dangers of taking the wrong medication.
Classification of OTC pain medication
If you look at the pain relief medicine cabinet at any pharmacy store, you’d be forgiven for thinking that there are a large number of options available. But actuality, there are only three types of pain relievers currently available OTC. They are
1. Aspirin- Aspirin hinders the activity of the pain hormones, called prostaglandins, which would otherwise send pain information to the brain. Moreover, by blocking prostaglandins, aspirin reduces the pain and discomfort of inflammation.
2. Acetaminophen-Acetaminophen is found in drugs like Tylenol, as well as some fairly common OTC medications and in prescription pain-relief products. Acetaminophen travels through the blood vessels to the brain, reducing pain-related brain activity and fever. It isn’t quite as effective as the other two types of pain relievers at reducing inflammation or providing relief as it doesn’t work through the hormonal system.
3. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories- These are sometimes called NSAIDs (pronounced N-Saidz). It isn’t a single chemical, like acetaminophen, but a number of chemicals including ibuprofen, naproxen and ketoprofen, among others, all of which block the production of prostaglandins, thus alleviating pain and swelling. Some NSAIDs such as Aleve, Ibuprofen (generic) and Motrin are available over the counter; some newer NSAIDs, like Celebrex and Vioxx , require a prescription.
Tips to take Aspirin safely
Other than helping block the pain signals from the brain, aspirin also aids in blocking production of clots. Clots in the brain’s blood vessels can cause strokes, so aspirin is often prescribed to high risk patients to reduce chances of strokes.
This very property of aspirin also means that its difficult to stop bleeding if the person is taking aspirin. Pregnant women run a heightened risk of internal bleeding if they are on aspirin, so they should consult their doctor for a safer alternative.
Aspirin can also cause ulcer formation and gastric bleeding. While the enteric coating reduces chances of harm, aspirin shouldn’t be taken for a prolonged period of time without the assent of healthcare personnel.
Children and teenagers with viral illnesses should not be given aspirin without consulting a physician as certain virus and aspirin can lead to a potentially fatal complication called Reye’s syndrome.
Tips to take Acetaminophen safely
Acetaminophen can cause liver damage and finally liver failure, if taken in high doses over prolonged periods of time. Because there is a risk of overdose, children should never be given high strength acetaminophen. They should be given regular doses. If the person thinks that they have taken an overdose, they should call a doctor immediately.
Alcohol magnifies the effect of acetaminophen on the liver. If the person in question consumes alcohol regularly, they should consult a physician before taking acetaminophen, or any other pain reliever, for that matter.
Tips to take NSAIDs safely
NSAIDs elevate the risk of bleeding. In addition, they can also affect liver function and general health and result in gastrointestinal bleeding.
In order to steer clear of the aforementioned effects, patients shouldn’t take more than one NSAID at a time, or an NSAID with aspirin, without consulting with a healthcare professional. Patients should ensure that the medications they’re already on, do not contain an NSAID, before taking an NSAID separately.
Finally, pregnant and nursing women must consult with their doctor before using an OTC NSAID or any pain killer.
If a patient finds himself/herself taking a pain reliever over a prolonged period of time, they should check with their doctor as soon as possible. It is possible that the pain is a result of some other deep set disease. In that case, it is advisable that the underlying condition be treated, rather than subside the pain temporarily.