Caution, a must for using painkillers

Imtiaz Ahmed | Friday, 24 September 2021

There is not a single person who never experiences any sort of physical pain. It is a common practice to help relieve the physical pain with medications called painkillers.

In our country, painkillers are widely available like any other drugs and often can be easily bought from the pharmacy without any prescription.

There are many types of pain medications. Some of those do not need a prescription to use called ‘Over the Counter’ (OTC) painkillers. One common example is paracetamol. NSAIDs is another group of painkillers which are stronger than paracetamol, but not all of the NSAIDs are OTCs.

Pain medications are commonly used for headache, toothache and even for menstrual pain in females. Each pain medication has its advantages and risks. Some types of pain respond better to certain medicines than others. There is also variation in personal responses to the painkillers.

While using painkillers, it is important to be careful about the side effects, articularly with NSAIDs, if proper precautions are not taken, it can lead to stomach bleeding or kidney problems. Paracetamol, if taken in large amounts, could cause liver damage.

Several factors may increase the probability of side effects from painkillers. These include (but not limited to) age over 65 years, presence of peptic ulcer disease, taking painkillers concurrently with blood thinners, steroids or anti-depressants, etc.

Additionally, people with kidney disease should avoid NSAIDs. It is also better for patients with liver disease to refrain from using paracetamol. All pain medications in pregnancy should be very carefully considered and must only be used following physician’s recommendation.

While taking painkillers, some simple rules can help to minimise the risks. For example, taking painkillers only as much as needed, not taking them longer than required duration and keeping track of the concomitant medications due to chances of interaction are all important to promote safe use of these medications. 

Regardless of whether we are using OTC or prescription painkillers, it is always advisable to read the medication labels or prescribing information supplied with the drug. These drugs should be taken as directed, and if they are serious, the physician must be immediately consulted. 

It is also crucial to let the physicians know all the drugs someone is taking and all the health issues he/she is suffering from before a painkiller is prescribed. The prescription should be followed exactly and playing with the dose or duration is a big No.

There are some common mistakes associated with painkiller use. One of those is taking the drug incorrectly, i.e., using too much or too little.

Another issue is taking the drugs at the same time with other drugs which are known to interact with each other; this may increase the likelihood of side effects. To avoid this, it is important to talk to the doctor about the medications one is currently taking and to check the label of the painkiller to see what drugs are listed as causing interaction.

Many painkillers are specifically advised to be taken with food. This is crucial to prevent one of the most serious side effects of these drugs, i.e., stomach ulceration and bleeding. \

Also using two or more painkillers simultaneously is a bad idea. Abruptly stopping the use of certain painkillers is also not recommended since it may cause some bad effect on the body.

Painkillers are one of the commonest drugs we use in our daily life. But we must remember that while they are beneficial on a short-term basis, their continuous use will adversely impact our bodies. So it is critical that we do not overuse or misuse it.

Imtiaz Ahmed is a practising doctor.
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