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Pain (PDQ®): Supportive care - Patient Information [NCI] - Using Drugs to Control Pain

The doctor will prescribe drugs based on whether the pain is mild, moderate, or severe.

Your doctor will prescribe drugs to help relieve your pain. These drugs need to be taken at scheduled times to keep a constant level of the drug in the body to help keep the pain from coming back. Drugs may be taken by mouth or in other ways, such as by infusion or injection.

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Your doctor may prescribe extra doses of a drug that can be taken as needed for pain that occurs between scheduled doses of drug. The doctor will adjust the drug dose for your needs.

Acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may be used to relieve mild pain.

NSAIDs help relieve mild pain. They may be given with opioids for moderate to severe pain. Acetaminophen also relieves pain, although it does not have the anti-inflammatory effect that aspirin and other NSAIDs do.

Patients, especially older patients, who are taking acetaminophen or NSAIDs need to be closely watched for side effects. See Treating Pain in Older Patients for more information. Most NSAIDs affect the blood platelets so that it takes longer for blood to clot and stop any bleeding. Aspirin should not be given to children to treat pain.

Opioids may be used to relieve moderate to severe pain.

Opioids work very well for the relief of moderate to severe pain. Some patients with cancer pain stop getting pain relief from opioids during long-term therapy. This is called tolerance. Larger doses or a different opioid may be needed if your body stops responding to the same dose. Tolerance of an opioid is a physical dependence on it. This is not the same as addiction (psychological dependence). Opioid doses can be safely increased by your doctor as needed for your pain, without causing addiction.

There are several types of opioids:

  • Morphine (the most commonly used opioid for cancer pain).
  • Hydromorphone.
  • Oxycodone.
  • Oxymorphone.
  • Methadone.
  • Fentanyl.
  • Meperidine.
  • Tapentadol.
  • Tramadol.

The doctor will prescribe drugs and the times they should be taken in order to best control your pain.

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