What are Pain Relievers?

Over-the counter (OTC) pain relievers are used to treat headaches, muscle aches, joint pain and fevers. The most common non-prescription pain relievers can be broken into two categories: acetaminophen and nonsteroidal ant-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
Acetaminophen
Acetaminophen is available as a generic product or by brand name. The most well-known brand name acetaminophen is Tylenol. You may also find acetaminophen as an ingredient in many other prescription and OTC products such as flu and cold medications.
NSAIDs
NSAIDs differ from acetaminophen by also working to reduce inflammation in the body. NSAIDs are available in three categories: aspirin, ibuprofen and naxopren.
All three categories are sold generically. Excedrin, Bayer, Bufferin and St. Joseph are brand name aspirins. Ibuprofen is sold under the brand names Advil and Motrin. Aleve is one brand name naxopren. Like acetaminophen, NSAIDs are common ingredients in other prescription and OTC medications.

What do Pain Relievers look like?

OTC pain relievers are generally made available in pill, tablet or capsule form but are common ingredients in many other prescription and OTC medications.

How are Pain Relievers abused?

OTC pain relievers are often abused when they are taken in larger than the recommended doses, in hopes that they will work faster. Overdoses can cause liver failure, heart problems, gastrointestinal bleeding and kidney issues. Extreme overdoses can even lead to death. Overdoses are not always intentional. People fail to realize how commonly OTC or prescription pain relievers are added to other medications they are taking. It is important to read the ingredient labels of any other medications being used.

OTC pain relievers are also misused when they are combined with alcohol. People having three or more drinks containing alcohol a day have an elevated risk of liver damage, when OTC pain medications are combined. This damage can occur even when OTC pain relievers are taken at non-toxic doses.

How do Pain Relievers affect a person?

Acetaminophen works in the brain to block pain messages and reduce fever. NSAIDs differ from acetaminophen by also working to reduce inflammation in the body. NSAIDs decrease the production of prostaglandins. Prostaglandin chemicals send pain signals from nerve endings to the brain.

What are the health effects/risks of using Pain Relievers?

When taken in recommended doses, OTC pain medications generally produce very few side effects. NSAIDs are more likely than acetaminophen to cause stomach upset.

Serious side effects caused by OTC pain reliever abuse include liver failure, kidney damage, heart problems, gastrointestinal bleeding, elevated blood pressure, jaundice, coma and death. Symptoms of an OTC pain reliever overdose, such as blurred vision, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, drowsiness or confusion, may not appear for twelve hours or more.