Popping pills? The truth about PAINKILLERS

pain killersAnalgesics or painkillers are a class of drugs used to relieve pain. They can be broadly divided into non-narcotic and narcotic analgesics. Pain relief is a significant part of treatment for certain conditions such as arthritis, where pain medications are prescribed and used over a long time period. A wide range of painkillers are available from simple medications such as ibuprofen, aspirin and acetaminophen, which one can purchase over the counter, to more powerful medicines such as opiates, which need to be prescribed by a doctor.

Gastrointestinal problems

NSAIDs prevent the creation of prostaglandins, the hormone-like chemicals that cause swelling and increase pain. There are different types of prostaglandins in the human body. The Cox-l enzyme which is present in the body is one such prostaglandin that helps protect the lining of the gastrointestinal tract and stomach. Since a regular NSAID will block Cox-1 enzymes, it will slow down the production of this prostaglandin which is why such analgesics cause high rates of gastrointestinal problems. With its defenses down, the GI tract becomes irritated and more susceptible to damage by normal gastric acids and foods which are difficult to digest.

High blood pressure and kidney damage

Anti Inflammatory drugs are known to reduce the blood flow to the kidneys, which in turn makes them work more slowly than they should. In the event that one’s kidneys are not working well, fluid builds up in the body which causes water retention and more fluid in the bloodstream resulting in higher blood pressure.

Allergic reactions

Something that is often overlooked is that NSAIDs can cause extreme allergic reactions, especially in people who suffer from asthma.

Other things to look out for

Aspirin, which is commonly used as a blood thinner, should not be used in children with viral illness as it has been linked to Reye’s syndrome, a potentially fatal disease. It can also cause rash, vomiting, severe liver dysfunction and brain swelling (encephalopathy). Acetaminophen (paracetamol/Tylenol) is a mild analgesic. It is commonly used for the relief of headaches and other minor aches and pains and is a major component in numerous cold and flu remedies. It is also used in combination with opioid painkillers in the management of more severe pain such as post-surgical pain and for palliative care in advanced cancer patients. Due to its weak anti-inflammatory properties, it is not classified as an NSAID. Side effects of this drug can include nausea, rash and when taken in high doses even liver damage. Compared to NSAIDs, acetaminophen is associated with fewer adverse gastrointestinal effects. As it is metabolized or broken down by the liver, it can be hepatotoxic, that is to say, bad for one’s liver; chronic alcoholics qr those with liver disease are more likely to suffer from such side effects. Unlike aspirin, it can be safely used in treating children, as it is not associated with the development of Reye’s syndrome.

Narcotic analgesics

When taken over time opiate painkillers can cause mild to severe withdrawal symptoms such as shivers, aching joints, agitation, anxiety, depression, constipation, nausea, vomiting, drowsiness, dry mouth, miosis (constricted pupils), orthostatic hypotension (blood pressure lowers upon standing), urinary retention, bradycardia (slowing of heart rate), and paranoia. However, the greatest risk from opiates is addiction, which is caused by taking them unnecessarily over long periods of time.

Management of side effects varies with the clinical presentation from patient to patient. Those who present with clinical features of a GI bleed are treated according to the severity of the symptoms. Usually the medication is discontinued and an ulcer may be treated with a proton pump inhibitor drug, , such as omeprazole, which decrease stomach acids. Sometimes severe bleeding requires intervention via a slightly more invasive procedure called an endoscopy. Perforated ulcers require surgical management.

It is strongly advised that pain-killer, narcotic or not, be taken with caution. Patients on prescriptions are recommended to maintain close follow ups with their physicians in order to avoid any serious complications. Until and unless you have to, one should try alternative pain reducing therapies, or revert to natural methods of. pain management which are less harmful to the body in the long-run.

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