Millions of Americans use over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers for a variety of reasons – headaches, muscle or joint pain, pain related to an illness or chronic condition, temporarily reduce a fever, and more. Far too many people abuse these OTC pain relievers and take them for everything or as a part of their daily regime.
But are we aware of some of the dangers of using these ITC pain relievers too frequently?
There are four major types of OTC – aspirin, acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil), and naproxen (Aleve).
Aspirin has been in use for over 2,000, but it wasn’t called aspirin until 1899, when Bayer named it. It is part of a group of drugs known as NSAIDs (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug), and used not only for pain, but to reduce swelling and inflammation. It’s long been a favorite to help relieve a toothaches as American Indians used to chew willow bark (the original source of the main ingredient in aspirin).
Over the past couple of decades, aspirin has been recommended to improve heart health, circulation and reduce the possibility of heart attacks. Today, many doctors recommend taking a low-dose aspirin (less than 100mg per tablet) a day for heart health. My wife and I both take a low-dose aspirin (81mg) daily as recommended by our doctor.
However, aspirin is not the wonder drug it was touted to be for years as it, like many other NSAIDs, are hard on the stomach lining and may lead to bleeding ulcers. This is why so many companies make a buffered aspirin, where it is combined with a buffer substance to help prevent the harsh effects on the stomach lining.
Acetaminophen is technically known as paracentamol and was discovered around 1877. It is used for pain and fever relief and sometimes combined with other medications to relieve symptoms of things like the common cold. Acetaminophen is widely available as a generic drug but is also the main ingredient in Tylenol and Panadol.
Some years back, it was discovered that too much acetaminophen could lead to kidney and/or liver damage. It’s also fatal to some animals including house cats. In 2007, in a report on the dangers of acetaminophen it was reported:
“What if a dietary supplement was proven to cause liver damage, liver failure and death? What if each year, this same supplement caused 100,000 calls to poison control centers, 56,000 emergency room visits, 26,000 hospitalizations, and more than 450 deaths from liver failure alone?…”
“Many drugs can cause liver damage, liver failure, and death. Yet, acetaminophen prompts the most calls to poison control centers—more than 100,000 per year. Each year, acetaminophen accounts for about 56,000 emergency room visits, 26,000 hospitalizations, and more than 450 deaths from liver failure. Acetaminophen causes more cases of acute liver failure than all other medications combined.”
My family used to take Tylenol for many things until these reports came out and then we switched to Advil or generic ibuprofen.
Naproxen (Aleve) is used like the others for pain and sore muscle relief. It is also often recommended for osteoarthritis and gout pain. However, like most NSAIDs, it can be harsh on the stomach if taken too frequently. More recent reports have indicated that many NSAIDs can reduce blood to the kidneys and increase the risk of heart attack and stroke. Like the others listed above, these should be taken only when needed and not for prolonged periods of time.
Ibuprofen (Advil) has long been thought of as the safest or less dangerous of the four main OTC pain relievers, but a recent study indicates that it also has its dangers. This OTC, like the others is also used to relieve pain of headaches, lower fever and reduce inflammation. However, a very recent study is placing a dire warning on the use of ibuprofen:
“Some common pain relievers may increase the risk of cardiac arrest, according to a new study from Denmark.”
“In the study, researchers found a link between the use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) — including ibuprofen — and an increased risk of cardiac arrest, which is when the heart suddenly stops beating.”
“The findings add to those of previous research, which has also found a link between NSAID use and a higher risk of heart problems, including heart attack, stroke and heart failure. The new study is the first to look specifically at the impact of NSAIDs on cardiac-arrest risk.”
The bottom line is that all of the aforementioned OTC pain and fever relievers have their beneficial uses but they also have their dangers and everyone needs to be aware of what those dangers are. Take them only when necessary, not for prolonged periods of time, do not take more than the recommended safe dosage and always check with your doctor. None of them, not even ibuprofen is the wonder drug it was once thought of.