The Southeastern Spine Institute

What’s Wrong with Over-the-Counter Pain Relievers?

Most people assume that the over-the-counter (OTC) medications you can buy without a prescription are harmless. But according to the American Gastroenterological Association, these drugs are responsible for more than 100,000 hospital visits and have led to 16,500 deaths. OTC pain relievers can cause several serious health issues, such as:

  • Bleeding stomach ulcers
  • Peptic ulcers
  • Liver cirrhosis

The medical professionals at the Southeastern Spine Institute can advise you about the side effects of these drugs. They can help you understand why certain pain relievers may do more harm than good. You shouldn’t take over-the-counter pain relievers for longer than a couple weeks. If you’re still feeling pain after that period, it’s time to consult your doctor to address the cause of the pain.

When Should I Ask My Doctor about OTC Pain Relievers?

OTC painkillers are dangerous if not taken as directed. While you may think you know your body, you may have an underlying medical condition that’s causing the symptoms for which you’re taking the pain relievers. Your doctor can make sure the symptoms aren’t part of a serious, previously unknown medical condition.

Other reasons to seek medical guidance before taking over-the-counter pills on your own include:

  • Take over-the-counter pain meds only for mild to moderate pain. If your pain isn’t relieved in two to three days, consult a doctor immediately. Taking the medicine longer isn’t advisable as it can cause other medical problems and side effects.
  • If you have gastrointestinal problems, ask your doctor if it’s safe to take OTC pain relievers.
  • If you have high blood pressure, some of these pain relievers can interfere with your blood pressure medications.
  • If you’re in the habit of taking herbal medications, OTC painkillers can cause certain ingredients in the herbal blend to become more potent.
  • If you’ve had heart problems in the past, you need to be careful when popping over-the-counter painkillers, as some can increase the risk of a heart attack or stroke.
  • Some ingredients in the OTC medications can cause an allergic reaction. Your doctor can better guide you to which pain relievers are suitable for you.
  • It’s possible to get addicted to certain OTC pain relievers. You may form a psychosomatic relationship between pain and the pill.
  • OTC painkillers aren’t helpful if you have chronic pain. See your doctor for a more appropriate pain medication.

What Types of OTC Pain Relievers Are Available?

The two main types of over-the-counter pain relievers available at your local pharmacy include:

  1. Acetaminophen (APAP) inhibits the pain signals and lowers fever. It is not so effective, however, for reducing swelling or inflammation. Most people take this drug to treat headaches, arthritic pain, common aches and pain and for slight fever or cold. You can also find its active ingredient in cough medicines and cough suppressants.
  2. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are the most common pain reliever you can buy at the local drug store. They don’t contain steroids. They treat the pain from conditions like headaches, menstrual cramps, muscle aches, sores and stiffness. These drugs also work well for pain and inflammation associated with a toothache or muscle sprain and when you have a fever.

Common OTC pain relievers you may be familiar with include:

  • Tylenol (APAP)
  • Aspirin (NSAID)
  • Ibuprofen (NSAID)
  • Naproxen (NSAID)