Everyday Pain Relief: Ulcers
Many familiar over-the-counter pain relief drugs can cause harmful side effects for those with ulcers. Here's what you need to know.
What Are the Risks for People With Ulcers? continued...
For people with ulcers, the risky pain relievers are nonsteroidal
anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs. They include aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen
sodium, and ketoprofen, the active ingredients in medicines such as Bufferin,
Advil, and Aleve.
Other pain relievers may be less dangerous. Acetaminophen -- the active
ingredient in Tylenol -- works differently and poses a much lower risk of GI
problems. However, like any drug, it does have side effects of its own. You
shouldn't take any over-the-counter painkiller for more than 10 days without
your health care provider's approval.
The risks from NSAIDs are quite serious. Studies show that people who use
NSAIDs are about three times as likely to have gastrointestinal bleeding. Even
at low doses, NSAIDs can make mild ulcers much worse.
Aspirin has additional risks. "Aspirin can help prevent blood clotting,
which is why it helps people at risk of heart attacks and strokes," says Cryer.
"But in people with ulcers, it can lead to more serious gastrointestinal
However, what if you have an ulcer and a high risk of heart attack or
stroke? Then what do you do? Cryer admits that balancing the benefits and risks
of these medicines can be tricky.
"People need to talk to their doctors to figure out what's best in their
case," he says. But in people with a high risk of heart attack or stroke, he
says that the cardiovascular benefits of aspirin can outweigh its
If you have an ulcer, what should you do the next time you have a headache?
In general, people with ulcers should use acetaminophen for over-the-counter
pain relief. Unless your doctor has said it's OK, you should not use aspirin,
ibuprofen, ketoprofen, or naproxen sodium. If acetaminophen doesn't help with
your pain, see your doctor.
Other Options for Pain Relief
Painkillers aren't the only answer for many of life's aches and pains. Many
effective and safe alternatives don't have any side effects at all.
Ice packs, for acute injuries such as a sprained ankle,
can keep down swelling and ease pain.
Heat with a hot towel or heating pad can be helpful for
treating chronic overuse injuries. (However, you shouldn't use heat on recent
Physical activity can help reduce some kinds of
discomfort, such as arthritis pain.
Relaxation with techniques such as yoga or meditation --
may reduce pain. Biofeedback may help as well. These approaches are best for
pain that's amplified by stress, such as tension headaches.
Nontraditional techniques with low risks -- such as
acupuncture -- benefit some people.
So remember: Pain relief doesn't only come from a pill bottle.