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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.

The Pros and Cons of Pain Relief Drugs continued...

Bayer, Bufferin, Ecotrin (and also an ingredient in Excedrin)

  • How it works. Aspirin is an NSAID that circulates through your bloodstream. It blocks the effects of chemicals that increase the feeling of pain.
  • Benefits. Aspirin has earned its reputation as a "wonder drug." It eases pain and lowers fevers. It can also reduce inflammation, which means that it can treat the symptom (pain) and sometimes the cause (swelling.)

    Aspirin also lowers the risk of blood clots, heart attacks, and strokes, particularly in people at high risk of these problems. Usually, only very low daily doses -- 81milligrams, or one baby aspirin --are recommended for cardiovascular protection. Other NSAIDs (such as ibuprofen, ketoprofen, or naproxen sodium) and acetaminophen do not have this effect. However, you should never start taking aspirin daily without talking with your health care provider first.

  • Side effects and risks. Aspirin can cause or aggravate ulcers. If possible, people who have ulcers should avoid it. Even at very low doses, aspirin can cause gastrointestinal symptoms, such as heartburn, upset stomach, or pain. Coated or "buffered" aspirin does not decrease these risks. Over time, ulcers can cause swelling and a build-up of scar tissue. This can become so severe that it can block food from getting out of the stomach.

    Aspirin can be dangerous for people with liver disease, gout, juvenile arthritis, or asthma. Rarely, aspirin can cause ringing in the ears or hearing loss.

    Pregnant women shouldn't use aspirin, since it can harm the mother and cause birth defects. Unless your health care provider says it's OK, children and teenagers should not use aspirin because it puts them at risk of Reye's syndrome.

    While inflammation can cause pain, it's often a key part of the body's natural healing process. Since aspirin at high doses can prevent inflammation, it can also slow down recovery after certain injuries.

Advil, Motrin IB, Nuprin

  • How it works. Like all NSAIDs, ibuprofen blocks the effects of chemicals that increase the feeling of pain.
  • Benefits. Ibuprofen can lower fevers, ease pain, and reduce inflammation.
  • Side effects and risks. People with ulcers should not use ibuprofen unless their health care providers say it's safe. Ibuprofen can cause or aggravate ulcers. It also causes other gastrointestinal symptoms, such as heartburn, upset stomach, or pain. Drinking alcohol while using ibuprofen increases the risk of GI problems.

    Ibuprofen may also increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) now requires that drug companies highlight ibuprofen's potential risks. The use of this drug along with other NSAIDs in pregnant women has been linked to birth defects.

    Some people are allergic to ibuprofen and other NSAIDs. It can cause hives and facial swelling. It can be dangerous to some people with asthma. People with ulcers should avoid ibuprofen if possible. In some cases, ibuprofen can slow down the body's natural healing process.

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