If you have any sort of pain, chances are that if it is moderate or mild, the first thing you will do is reach for a pain killer, probably one that is easily available over the counter and which you probably have in your medicine box or cabinet. But how safe is the pain killer that you take? And which pain killers are now available?
The problem with pain killers
When you take a pain killer on occasion, it should usually not cause any problems, unless you are taking a banned drug. However, most people who are in pain suffer constantly from pain and, when they are prescribed pain killers as the first line of treatment, they will need the drug in greater frequency or a higher dosage or both to have the same effect as the body gets used to the effects. This often leads to abuse of pain killers and regular usage can have serious ill effects on health as well as some dangerous side effects.
As research continues more side effects and sometimes even dangers become apparent and when these are too many to ignore, the FDA either bans the drugs or allows their sale provided there is an alert or warning label on them regarding the side effets
Dangers of commonly prescribed and OTC pain killers
VICODIN is a strong pain killer for those with moderate to severe pain – it is a combination of hydrocodone and acetaminophen and has been recently in the news as one of the prescription drugs that is widely abused. Hydrocodone is an opioid (similar to heroin and morphine so has addictive qualities. Among its side effects are nausea, vomiting, constipation, low heartbeat, feeling faint, lightheadedness, dizziness, seizure, confusion or drowsiness. It is available only via prescription, but is also available illegally off the net. The FDA has laid out specific guidelines for the prescription of Vicodin.
ASPIRIN has been known to be fast and effective for many different kinds of pain ranging from toothaches to arthritis pain to headaches. In a small dosage it is also given routinely as a blood thinner to reduce heart attack and stroke risks to people who may be at greater risk of developing these problems. However, too much of full dose aspirin can lead to bleeding disorderS and stomach ulcers and the drug should not be taken by those who have kidney or liver problems. It should not be given to children and teenagers for the treatment of colds, flu and chicken pox or other viral infections as it can cause Reye’s syndrome, a potentially fatal condition.
PIROXICAM is an anti inflammatory and pain killer often used for rheumatism and arthritis related pains, though it is used for other pains as well. Piroxicam should not be used by people on blood thinners, digestive disorders, ulcerative colitis and others. It should be used with caution by those who have asthma, high cholesterol, heart problems and high blood pressure. It can also cause thrombocytopaenia and acute nephropathy, toxic epidermal necrolysis and Stevens-Johnson syndrome. Stroke, heart attack, renal failure, kidney problems and serious adverse reactions have been reported by long term users of piroxicam.
IBURPROFEN is commonly used for aches and pains and is prescribed for early arthritis pain. It is an anti inflammatory and can be used for muscle sprains and strains and even high fever, which does not go down after taking acetaminophen. It should not be used for tension headaches and migraines and can irritate the stomach, so if you have digestive disorders you are cautioned against using this drug. But it also can have some serious side effects: it can increase blood pressure and can damage the kidneys. Research on available data has shown that people who take ibuprofen are at three times higher risk of developing stroke.
NAPROXEN is used for gout and arthritis related pains and may also be used for muscle pains after working out. However, like ibuprofen it increases the risk of stomach bleeding, skin reactions, pancreatitis and stroke, so if you have other risk factors, avoid taking this medicine or take it for short periods of time.
DICLOFENAC is stronger than ibuprofen and often given for joint pains and toothaches or to relive post surgical pain. A PLoS study written by Dr Patricia McGettigan showed that diclofenac increased the risk of developing heart attack or stroke by four times. While effective in reducing pain, the risks are too great to ignore.
ACETOMINOPHEN is one of the most commonly used painkillers and anti pyretic. It is considered safe for children as well. However, recent research has pointed out the serious side effects of this medicine and the FDA has now asked all manufacturers of acetaminophen made singly or added to combination drugs to add a warning against skin rash or a skin reaction that can be potentially fatal. The FDA has issued this FDA Adverse Event Reporting System (FAERS) after studying its own database about adverse reactions. Acetaminophen has earlier been in the news for causing liver damage and now has to carry a warning label against this. It has been responsible for reactions such as Steven-Johnson Syndrome, toxic epidermal necrolysis and acute generalized exanthematous pustulosis.
Vioxx, Rofecoxib, Darvon, Percocet and many other such pain killers have already been banned by the FDA, though the drugs were released after initial testing and trials. Due to side effect too numerous and too frequent to ignore, the FDA had to ban them. Other drugs like Celebrex carry warning labels. What is even more important is that people should avoid becoming dependent on pain killers and increasing the dose and frequency on their own. If a drug works for you and you simply cannot do without it, take it for as short a time as possible in as low a dose as effective and explore alternative remedies or holistic treatments, diet and physiotherapy for the pain as a long term solution.
Food and Drug Administration (FDA)