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How to Avoid Problems with OTC Pain Relievers continued...

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. 

 

OTC Brand Names (not a complete list) Possible Complications Precautions

Tylenol

 

OTC Combination products include:

Products for cold and flu symptoms 

Overdosing on this ingredient can cause liver damage that can lead to liver failure. You should stop taking this drug and call your doctor or poison control immediately  if you suspect you have overdosed.  

Signs and symptoms of overdose may not be immediately noticeable but can include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Upset stomach
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sweating

These symptoms may not appear until 12 to 24 hours after taking the medicine.

Do not use with any other drug that contains acetaminophen.

Talk with your doctor before taking this medication if you:

  • drink more than three alcoholic drinks per day
  • take a blood-thinning drug called warfarin (Coumadin)
  • are pregnant or breast-feeding.

Check with your doctor or pharmacist about drug interactions with other medications or supplements you are taking.

 

Aspirin

This type of NSAID is used to treat mild to moderate pain and help reduce fever. It is also used to help prevent heart attacks and stroke in people who have angina (chest pain) and in those who have had a previous heart attack or stroke. You should never take aspirin for your heart without first asking your doctor.

 

OTC Brand Names (not a complete list) Possible Complications Precautions

Bayer Aspirin

Bufferin

Ecotrin

Excedrin

St. Joseph

Some brands, such as Alka Seltzer, Goody's, and others, contain aspirin along with other ingredients.

 

Aspirin may cause stomach irritation and bleeding. Possible symptoms include:

  • Bloody, tarry black stools
  • Vomiting blood that looks like coffee grounds

It’s best to avoid alcohol while taking aspirin because it can increase this risk.

An allergic reaction is also possible, which can cause:

  • Hives
  • Facial swelling
  • Asthma/wheezing

Also call your doctor if you have ringing in your ears or hearing problems.

If you are taking aspirin to prevent heart attack or stroke, talk to your doctor before taking an NSAID, as they may make aspirin less effective.

 

 

Children and teens under 18 should not take aspirin because of the risk of developing Reye Syndrome, a potentially fatal condition.

 

Talk with your doctor before taking this medication if you:

  • are allergic to aspirin or other NSAIDs
  • have stomach bleeding or ulcers or other bleeding disorders
  • are pregnant

If you are having surgery, including dental surgery, be sure to tell your dentist or doctor that you take aspirin.

Check with your doctor or pharmacist about drug interactions with other medications or supplements you are taking.

Choosing an OTC Pain Reliever

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