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How to Avoid Problems with OTC Pain Relievers

“If you take OTC pain relievers according to the directions on the label, then you should be fine,” Ashar says. “However, they are still medicines. All have risks for side effects and interactions with other medications.”

To prevent complications, follow these tips:

Read and follow the label. Always look for the active ingredient on the label. That way you know what you are taking.

Use them as briefly as possible. “Over-the-counter pain relievers should only be used for the temporary relief of acute pain,” Krenzelok tells WebMD. If your pain lasts longer than 10 days, "it could be an indication of a more serious problem, and you should see your doctor for advice,” he says. Never take more than the recommended dose or take pain relievers for longer than recommended.

Don’t use NSAIDs daily for chronic pain. The longer you take pain relievers, the more likely you are to have side effects. That's why you should not take OTC pain relievers for more than 10 days without talking to your doctor. One reason is that "all NSAIDs -- except for aspirin -- also increase the risk for heart attack and stroke when used over long periods,” William Grubb, MD, DDS, director of the New Jersey Pain Institute and associate professor of anesthesia at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, tells WebMD.

Know when to talk to your doctor about taking them. “If you have health problems, or take a lot of other medications, it’s a good idea to check with your doctor about how and when to use these products,” Ashar says. Tell your doctor about any OTC products or supplements you use. And if you are given a new prescription medication, ask whether it is safe to also take OTC pain relievers.

Compare OTC Pain Relievers

Still not sure the differences between OTC pain relievers? Use these charts to compare some side effects and possible complications at a glance.  

Acetaminophen

This medicine relieves mild to moderate pain from muscle aches, headaches, colds, sore throats, backaches, arthritis, toothaches, and menstrual periods. It also helps reduce fever. 

Choosing an OTC Pain Reliever

What you need to know to make a safe and effective choice.
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Pain Relief Poll

What usually has you reaching for an OTC pain reliever?

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