5 Tips for Choosing a Safer OTC Pain Med

(HealthyAccess)- Over-the-counter pain relievers are common in most of our homes. In fact, we likely have a preferred brand that we take when we’re experiencing pain and discomfort. We may not think much about it, instinctively reaching for what we usually take with no fear of danger. But are the OTC pain relievers we’re choosing safe for us to take?

Here are four tips for choosing a safer OTC pain medication.

Be an informed consumer.

As with any purchase, it helps to be informed about what we’re buying. This goes beyond getting the most bang for our buck. We also need to educate ourselves about the types of pain relievers available and any associated risks.

There are two types of pain relievers on the market:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Analgesics

NSAIDs can be effectively used for both pain and inflammation. Ibuprofen, naproxen sodium, and aspirin are all common NSAIDs.

Acetaminophen, however, is an analgesic and is used to reduce fever and increase serotonin, which helps with pain relief. Aspirin is another common analgesic but is less often recommended for pain and more frequently suggested to avoid heart attacks or strokes.

Why is the difference between pain relievers important? It’s all about why you need the medication.

For menstrual cramps or muscle pain, reach for NSAIDs to control inflammation. When dealing with headaches, arthritis, or fever, choose acetaminophen.

Know the risks.

While over-the-counter medications are generally considered safe enough for consumers to use and take without a prescription, they are not without risks.

NSAIDs can have an adverse effect on the kidneys and heart, and can even irritate stomach ulcers. They can also increase our blood pressure. Acetaminophen has been linked to liver failure and is a poor choice of pain reliever for anyone who drinks alcohol frequently.

Pain relievers in general are best avoided for those with gastric, heart, liver, or kidney disease. While aspirin is still associated with pain relief, it is no longer recommended for that use as it can cause bleeding of the stomach lining.

Consider the frequency of use.

How often we plan to utilize pain medication makes a difference in which one we decide to take. If we’re reaching for the occasional pain killer to relieve muscle pain or for a headache, we’re likely using our OTC choice appropriately.

If, however, we are using pain relievers every week with regularity, they may be masking a bigger problem. The danger of side effects increases the more often we use medications, and they may be covering up a medical issue that needs our attention.

After all, pain is often the body’s way of communicating with us. If we ignore the messages, we could be worsening a health issue. We can speak to our primary care provider about any pain we’re experiencing on a regular basis to see if there is an underlying health problem in play.

Read the label.

Reading the label is important when it comes to choosing safer OTC medications. We don’t want to reach for the PM version of a medication if we plan to work, drive, or operate heavy machinery, for example. Equally, we don’t want to take daytime medication if we need to get some sleep. Caffeine is often a key ingredient.

Labels often include warnings about using medications with certain health conditions. Other important information includes recommended dosage, how often to take the medication, and if we need to take it with food or water. To choose safely, we can make sure we’ve read and understood the label–and asked a doctor or pharmacist if we have any questions about what we’ve read.

Watch out for drug interactions.

If we take medication for colds or other illness, we need to read the labels to see if a pain reliever is also included in the ingredients. If we take cold medicine and a pain reliever together, we could be exceeding the recommended dosage and creating a health risk.

Over-the-counter pain relievers can really come in handy after an intense workout or when we struggle with a tension headache. When used correctly, they can be a great help. By keeping ourselves informed, understanding the risks, reading the labels, avoiding drug interactions, and monitoring how often we use them, we can take the steps necessary to choose the best OTC pain medication to meet our needs.

~Here’s to a Happier, Healthier Life!

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