Over-the-counter pain relievers: Which one is right for you?

UCLA| Thu May 11 11:30:33 EDT 2017
Over-the-counter pain relievers: Which one is right for you?

Before you reach for an over-the-counter (OCT) pain reliever to treat your headache or sore back, review your options. While these drugs are generally safe, they also have a number of side effects.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory inhibitors, such as ibuprofen, aspirin and naproxen, relieve pain and reduce fever and inflammation. They can treat headache and reduce discomfort, stiffness and swelling in people with arthritis. They may also provide relief for menstrual cramps, muscle aches, toothache and backache.

While these over-the-counter pain relievers are typically safe, be aware of these precautions:

Acetaminophen relieves minor aches and pain and reduces fever. It does not reduce inflammation. The drug is often used to treat the same maladies as NSAIDs — headache, muscle aches, toothache and menstrual cramps.

Using acetaminophen in children is typically safe. However, too much of the medicine can cause nausea and vomiting and in severe cases, liver problems or even death. As with NSAIDs, carefully follow package instructions for dosing according to a child’s weight and call your pediatrician if you have any questions.

Too much acetaminophen in adults is dangerous. Check whether other drugs you’re taking, including combination medicines for cold symptoms, contain acetaminophen because taking more than 4 grams per day is considered toxic; the recommended daily max is 3 grams per day. Toxic levels of acetaminophen can cause liver damage. In adults, the risk of liver damage with acetaminophen use increases if you have three or more alcoholic drinks daily.

If an OTC pain reliever is not helping you, be sure to call your primary-care doctor. You may need a prescription-strength drug or you may have an underlying health problem that needs to be addressed. UCLA has more than 160 primary care practices to choose from.

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