An Overview of Over-The-Counter Medications

At Site of the United States, pain management doctors often recommend that their patients take over-the-counter medications for mild or breakthrough pain. These medications can be effective on certain levels of pain and, if taken correctly, can have little to no side effects.

OTC pain medication is an easy way to help relieve minor aches, pains, and injuries. Even though these drugs are widely used by a variety of people, they aren’t very well understood. While reliable and effective when used appropriately, they also have risks and potential side effects.

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The most common type of over-the-counter pain medication is known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs. These medications include aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil and Motrin), naproxen sodium (Aleve), and ketoprofen. They prevent the body from manufacturing prostaglandins, which are substances produced naturally by the body. They act as mediators by protecting the stomach lining, regulating blood pressure, and regulating pain and inflammation. By taking an NSAID, one is blocking all prostaglandins. This means that not only are the ones causing pain blocked but the ones protecting the stomach lining are also cut off, which can cause stomach upsets and gastrointestinal bleeding in some people. The risk of problems tends to increase with long-term use of NSAIDs, but they are very effective at reducing aches, pain, fever, and inflammation. However, NSAIDs are not recommended for use before or after endurance sports, mainly because there is little performance increase and they may actually mask pain, which can lead to an increased risk of injury.

While aspirin is classified as an NSAID, there are a few differences between the two. Aspirin is considered a pain reliever and reduces inflammation and fever. Research has shown that it helps prevent heart attacks and may reduce colon cancer risk. It can prevent blood clots because it acts as a blood thinner and it is nonaddictive. Aspirin is not recommended for anyone with stomach problems, ulcers, or kidney disease or children under 16 who have chickenpox or flu symptoms.

Acetaminophen (Tylenol and Panadol) is the second type of over-the-counter pain reliever. These products are pain relievers that tend to combine with other ingredients like caffeine or decongestants to relieve multiple symptoms. Ibuprofen, naproxen sodium, and ketoprofen reduce pain more than acetaminophen, but acetaminophen is recommended for treating arthritis because it does not cause stomach irritation. It’s also the safest pain reliever for children and has been proven to reduce the risk of heart attacks.

Topical pain medications are applied directly to the skin. They come in many forms such as creams, gels, lotions, and patches. The most popular topical pain relievers (Bengay, Aspercreme, and Sportscreme) contain salicylates, ingredients also found in aspirin. These cremes reduce inflammation but they should not be used long-term or in excessive quantities. Never use them on broken or irritated skin and always wash your hands after use.

Be sure to talk to a pain management expert to see what kind of OTC pain medication is right for you.

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