Everyone has used some sort of over the counter pain reliever. Often times people misuse these products because they do not believe they are strong enough or as harmful as prescription medications. While over the counter medications are weaker than prescription pain relief medications, they are still medicine. Over the counter pain relief comes in two forms: non steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAIDs) and acetaminophen. Knowing the differences between the two and how they work can help you make a better choice on what products to use and how to use them.
NSAIDs work by stopping the production of prostaglandins. Prostaglandins are a natural chemical in the body that trigger pain. They also reduce inflammation. NSAIDs include aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen and ketoprofen. Gastrointestinal problems are the most common side effect of NSAIDs. NSAIDs also cause problems with kidney function. The severity and chance of experiencing side effects increase with use. NSAIDs can also interfere with blood pressure medications. People who drink more than 1 alcoholic beverage per week increase their chances of experiencing side effects from NSAIDs.
Acetaminophen works to relieve pain and reduce fever. Acetaminophen works by stopping pain in the brain as opposed to how NSAIDs stop pain at the area of pain. So instead of stopping the pain, acetaminophen actually blocks the brain from feeling the pain. Long term use of acetaminophen, especially in large doses can cause kidney damage. Acetaminophen is easier on the gastrointestinal area than NSAIDs, but can effect the liver with long term use.
Both NSAIDs and acetaminophen may be used together to treat pain. However, it is important not to use two products from the same group together, such as aspirin and naproxen. This could result in an overdose. It is also important to speak with your doctor before taking an over the counter pain medication if you are taking other medication.