The best pain reliever is the one that works best for your particular pain. Analgesics, aka painkillers, are drugs that relieve pain without the loss of consciousness. Opiates tend to be the most effective, yet their overuse can easily lead to an addiction. (Already happened? Check into Florida opiate addiction treatment.)
Acute pain is a good thing because it warns you that something is wrong so you can correct a potential health problem. However, chronic pain can be highly unpleasant and debilitating. Prior to reaching for a pain reliever, you should understand a bit about why you feel pain in the first place.
The perception of pain is caused by prostaglandin, a hormone like chemical, that’s released whenever a cell is injured or damaged. Prostaglandins cause the pain sensation by irritating special nerve endings that are very sensitive to it. These nerves then transmit a detailed pain message to your brain for a response. Prostaglandins are also involved in controlling your body’s temperature.
Another important part of the pain relief picture is cyclooxygenase enzymes. They speed up the production of prostaglandins.
Analgesics work in different ways to stop your pain, specifically:
- narcotics ~ interfere & stops the transmission of pain signal to your brain
- acetaminophen ~ works on the part of the brain that receives pain messages
- NSAIDs ~ stop cyclooxygenase enzymes production, thus reducing prostaglandins
Analgesics are not universally effective, therefore you may not gain the desired relief from an over the counter nor prescription painkiller. Unfortunately, you’ll have to try different ones to discover which pain reliever works best for you.
Over the counter (OTC) pain relievers mean you can buy an analgesic without a prescription. The two main categories are cetaminophen and non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). The active ingredients of over the counter NSAIDs are:
Some OTC pain relievers may contain a combination, so always read the label.
OTC analgesics are taken by many to help relieve the pain of:
- back pain
- menstrual cramps
- stiff, painful muscles
- muscle strains, joint sprains
- cold, sinusitis, strep throat, sore throat associated symptoms
Side effects from over the counter analgesics are rare if only taken occasionally. However, side effects are a concern with regular use or if you suffer a chronic health problem. The primary concern with acetaminophen is it can cause liver damage when taken in very high doses or if you have abnormal liver function already.
Long term use of NSAIDs pain relievers can cause gastrointestinal or other health issues, like:
For stomach upset, eating or drinking milk before you take a painkiller can help.
Oftentimes, over the counter pain relievers are all that’s needed to afford you relief. When they don’t, it may be because you have a more serious health complication for which a prescription painkiller might be required.
Routinely prescribed analgesics are prescription strength NSAIDs, COX-2 inhibitors and opiate narcotics. Both prescription NSAIDs and COX-2 inhibitors act on cyclooxygenase enzymes as previously described. Yet, a COX-2 inhibitor is easier on your stomach because it doesn’t act on the cyclooxygenas-1 enzyme. This enzyme is believed to have some role in protecting your stomach lining.
Like all drugs, analgesics can cause side effects. Some rarely noted side effects of prescription NSAIDs are:
- dry mouth
- ear ringing
- weight gain
- dizziness, headache
- tiredness, weakness
- hematuria, hematemesis
- black, bloody, tarry stools
- muscle cramps, paresthesias
- excess gas, diarrhea, constipation
- abdominal cramps, heartburn, indigestion
Taking COX-2 inhibitor pain relievers may cause these additional side effects:
Opiates are narcotic pain relievers of last resort or for extreme pain. Although addictive, they are a highly effective pain killers.
Opiates act by attaching to a specific “receptor” so the pain message can’t be transmitted. The various active ingredients of these prescription pain relievers are:
For some, pain relieving opiates can cause a feeling of euphoria because they affect the pleasure brain regions. So abuse is a concern in that it can lead to physical dependency and addiction.
Once your body adapts to the presence of an opiate, or is dependent, withdrawal symptoms occur if you stop taking them. Symptoms of opiate painkiller withdrawal include:
With long term use, your body can build a tolerance. As such, you’ll need higher doses to achieve the desired analgesic effects. Fentanyl patch is a narcotic pain medicine applied to your skin for treating the opioid tolerant.
Allergic reactions to analgesics is always a possibility, albeit it’s rare. Call you health provider right away if you experience itching, hives and trouble breathing after taking one. And you shouldn’t take NSAIDs if you take blood thinners, have a bleeding disorder or drink alcohol daily.
Don’t expect painkillers to relieve all your pain, but the best pain reliever should reduce the amount and frequency.