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Know Your Painkiller

- Basab Dey


What do most of us do when we get a headache? We reach for a painkiller, and half an hour later we're feeling good as new. Even though painkillers can be real lifesavers at times, it helps if we know exactly what we are consuming. Often the painkillers we eat may be fine on a normal day, but if we are on other medication, the same painkiller may cause a lot of problems. This is why it makes sense for you to know your painkiller.

The OTC products that relieve your headache, fever, or muscle aches are not all the same. That's because the each of the pain relievers has a different way of working. Consumers may be unknowingly putting themselves at risk when taking commonly used pain relievers such as ibuprofen, according to experts writing in the American Journal of Therapeutics (AJT). The elderly - who are often on a number of- pregnant women, people with asthma and those with a history of gastro-intestinal problems are the most likely to be at risk. Some 60% of consumers are unaware of the active ingredient in their brand of pain reliever. All users of OTC pain relievers should read the label before taking analgesics, as risks can occur with inappropriate short-term use. Specific groups of people, including the elderly, and those taking certain types of prescribed drugs (heart drugs known as ACE inhibitors and water tablets or diuretics) were highlighted as being at a higher risk of side effects from drugs such as ibuprofen, including kidney problems or acute renal failure, as that they may not be aware of possible side effects, contraindications and interactions with prescription medicines. Authors drew attention to the fact that inappropriate long-term use of analgesics such as ibuprofen can double the risk of peptic ulceration.

For people who are unsure which pain reliever to take, paracetamol (acetaminophen) should be first choice say the experts in the AJT. Dr Ali Jawad, Consultant Rheumatologist, Royal London Hospital, United Kingdom and author of one of the AJT papers added: "For pain relief, paracetamol is the best first-choice, whatever pain you have, because it can be used by the majority of people when taken as recommended". Dr Jane Nikles, Senior Research Officer, The University of Queensland, Australia and one of the authors in the latest issue of the AJT underlined these concerns: "People are seemingly unaware of whether they fall into an 'at risk' group and therefore can take inappropriate pain relief. It is important that people take the time to read the information supplied with all over the counter (OTC) pain relievers or ask their healthcare professional for advice to ensure they choose the appropriate medication for them."

Pain is the most commonly self-treated symptom and there are an increasing number of pain relievers that are being purchased by the consumers in India without any prescription, despite the fact that most of these come under schedule H (prescription drugs) category. So it is imperative for the patient to know whether s/he has the correct choice of medication keeping in mind their side effects. Naturally, knowledge of the effect and safety of paracetamol is a milestone in achieving these correct decisions.


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