Over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers are among the most widely used medications in the world. Yet recently there has been growing concern about their dangers. As a result, the FDA has begun tightening rules about warning labels and maximum doses. The FDA is also considering banning some prescription drugs that contain acetaminophen, which is the active ingredient in some over-the-counter pain relievers.
So what does all this say about using OTC pain relievers to manage pain? Are they safe or should you clear your medicine cabinet of all OTC pain medications?
Neck pain is one of the main symptoms of cervical disc disease, in which discs between vertebrae become herniated or deteriorate, sometimes pinching nerves.
Several different drugs, from pain relievers to anti-inflammatory drugs such as steroids, can help ease your neck pain while you heal. Depending on the extent of your neck pain and the type of cervical disc disease, you can either take these medications alone or use them together with physical therapy or other treatments.
Despite all the concern, OTC pain relievers can be used safely if you follow a few simple rules. Here’s information to help you make smart decisions about using over-the-counter pain medications to manage pain.
What Are the Dangers Associated With OTC Pain Medicines?
The dangers of OTC pain medicines are well documented. Nonprescription pain medications come in two forms:
Acetaminophen is found in Tylenol and a number of generic pain relievers.
The biggest risk with NSAIDs is severe and sometimes fatal gastrointestinal bleeding. NSAIDs can trigger an increase in stomach acid and, at the same time, reduce the stomach’s normal protective mucus layer. In some patients, these widely used drugs can also make high blood pressure worse. They can cause reversible damage to the kidneys in people over 60; those with high blood pressure, heart disease, or pre-existing kidney disease; and people taking water pills.
Acetaminophen is considered safe if used according to the directions. However, taking more than the recommended dose can cause liver disease, liver failure, and death. Often, liver damage occurs before any symptoms show up. Shockingly, acetaminophen has replaced viral hepatitis as the leading cause of acute liver failure in the United States. The risk is greatest in people who already have liver problems, such as hepatitis or cirrhosis. But anyone who takes too much of the drug for too long faces danger.
Experts say that despite growing worries, OTC painkillers can be safe and effective, even for people with chronic pain. But it’s crucial to follow a few rules.