Take painkillers only when needed


By Blake Glosson

Although taking over-the-counter painkillers won’t fix health problems, they can be useful for pain relief when used correctly.

By understanding the function, risks and benefits of over-the-counter pain medications, you can develop a plan of action to fit your needs.

There are generally two types of people: the “I just shattered my femur, but I don’t believe in taking medicine” people and the “I just stubbed my toe, where’s the Advil?” people.

“There are some people I know who are weird about medicine completely and don’t take Advil,” said freshman psychology major Alex Wilkinson. “I try to take [painkillers] in moderation … I take them if I need them.”

Unlike narcotics, you can pick up over-the-counter painkillers without a prescription or professional monitoring. This means you’re responsible for which ones you take and how much you take. Before you decide the best approach for you, it’s necessary to understand what these drugs are.

Most over-the-counter painkillers are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, which work by blocking enzymes that induce a pain response in the body via inflammation. Common non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs include ibuprofen (Advil), aspirin and naproxen. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is not a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs because it isn’t anti-inflammatory.

If you’re deciding which type of painkiller to take, you should consider what is causing your pain. Advil would likely be a better option than Tylenol for menstrual cramps and back pain, since these issues are often instigated by acute inflammation.

Advil is also thought to be better for fever, muscle soreness, earache and toothache, whereas Tylenol is more effective against headaches and arthritis, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

As far as risks go for standard use of acetaminophen and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, the Food and Drug Administration considers them “safe and effective when the labeling directions or the advice from a healthcare professional is followed.”

Dr. Brian LaMere, chief of Medical Staff at Health Services, looks to what is prompting the need of over-the-counter painkiller use — particularly if someone is taking painkillers on a regular basis.

“The pain is a symptom; it’s not a disease. So, you need to know exactly what it is a symptom of,” LaMere said. “I can give all sorts of things to cover up [pain] … but if I don’t get to the root of it at some point, then I could be missing something very serious.

“Typically we will tell folks, ‘If you’re taking even over-the-counter pain medicines on a very regular basis in order to control your pain, then it’s probably time to consult with a [healthcare] provider to find out what’s causing that pain.’”

Aside from neglecting to follow directions, the most common problems related to over-the-counter painkillers stem from drug interactions or allergies.

A drug interaction is when a drug doesn’t have its normal effect due to interference from another drug, supplement, food or disease. The consequences of this can range from unnoticeable to fatal. Common interactions that involve non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs include simultaneous usage of aspirin and blood thinners or drinking excess alcohol while taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. These interactions may increase your risk of internal bleeding.

Painkillers are more like Band-Aids more than they are solutions, but their benefits still outweigh the risks when they’re used as directed.