What are the side effects of painkillers?

side effects of painkillers

Painkillers are one of the most common medications used globally due to pain being a popular condition experienced by most of the population. Pain is an indication that there is an internal or external injury or some underlying condition that needs treatment.

Painkillers are medically known as analgesics and they range from light to strong painkillers depending on dose, pharmacology, and the type of pain one experiences.  As with any other medication, analgesics also may cause side effects that may be different for each one of us. The side effects range from mild to severe and can be managed effectively most of the time.

Side effects may also be characterized as short-term and long-term, where the former lasts for a few days or a few weeks and the latter may be persistent effects. Common short-term effects are constipation, drowsiness, mood swings, depression, memory impairment, and a decreased heart rate.

These effects generally emerge if higher doses of the medication are taken. More serious adverse effects include heart, kidney, or liver damage, respiratory system damage, gastrointestinal difficulties, and cognitive impairment. These serious effects are generally brought about if one abuses or misuses the therapeutic.

 How do I manage the side effects?

Side effects of painkillers are generally easy to manage depending on the severity of the effects. Usually, you will be prescribed analgesics that are suited for the type of pain you have with minimal adverse effects.

However, sometimes because of underlying conditions, analgesics may increase the intensity and cause individuals to experience an increase in effects. Dependency of the medication is also a high risk factor, especially for those who have previously misused or abused medication. The best way to manage side effects is to follow instructions from your doctor.

A patient information leaflet is usually found in the packaging of the medication and is advised to be read before taking any medication. This leaflet contains all the information related to the medication and how to use the therapeutic. Some individuals who suffer from allergies will also find this leaflet useful as it contains ingredients of the analgesic. If side-effects are intensifying during use, lowering your dose and taking the medication lesser than usual might be helpful. For more serious effects, contact your doctor or pharmacist to provide advice on how to treat effects.

The four different types of painkillers

There are four types of painkillers that work in similar ways to relieve all types of pain. Below are the identified types of analgesics and what sort of pain they relieve:

  1. NSAID’s: This type of analgesic is called non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and is mainly used to treat inflammation in muscles and joints as well as long-term pain such as arthritis. Examples of NSAID’s include ibuprofen, naproxen, diclofenac, and indomethacin. There are 20 different types of NSAID’s available on prescription.
  2. Opioids: Examples of opioids include codeine and dihydrocodeine (weak opioids) and morphine, tramadol, and oxycodone (strong opioids). This medication has been used for centuries by ancient people from Mesopotamia, who extracted opioids from the opium poppy plant. The medication is considered a strong painkiller and is used to treat severe and acute pain and is only available on prescription.
  3. Non-opioids: Non-opioids are usually used to treat pain ranging from mild to moderate and are available as tablets, gels, patches, and suppositories. This type of painkiller can interact with NSAID’s to increase the effects of the medication and relieve extreme pain.
  4. Compound painkillers: This painkiller is a combination of a low dose of opioids and general painkillers. Compound analgesics are used to treat pain ranging from mild to severe such as headaches, small injures, and osteoarthritis.

Stronger compounds are available only on prescription while the less strong compounds can be bought over-the-counter. Examples of this therapeutic include co-codamol (paracetamol and codeine), co-dydramol (dihydrocodeine and paracetamol), and co-codaprine (aspirin and codeine).

How do painkillers work to relieve pain?

Studies have shown that analgesics interact, increase or inhibit receptors in the brain to relieve pain. There are two main ways in which analgesics work to relieve pain: 1) By inhibiting activity and 2) by imitating endorphins in the body.

Endorphins are the body’s natural pain reliever that is released to relieve all types of pain experienced. Analgesics copy the activity of endorphins and speed up the process of pain relief. Analgesics also slow down the activity of neurotransmitters to inhibit pain symptoms. Opioids interact with the spinal cord, receptors, and the gut to reduce the sensation of pain and increase tolerance of pain.

Opioids interact with opioid receptors and inhibit the ability of the body to send pain signals to the brain via the spinal cord. Research shows that NSAID’s and non-opioids decrease the activity of cyclooxygenase enzymes (COX1 or COX2) making them unable to produce prostaglandins (which promotes pain and inflammation.

Compound painkillers can work in both ways because of the two types of analgesics it consists of. Even though some analgesics work in different ways, the main goal for all is to inhibit pain and inflammation in some cases.

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General guidelines when using this therapeutic

Apart from managing side effects, it is also advisable that when taking analgesics, we should be cautious about other medication co-administered and alcohol use. Interacting chronic medication, sedatives and hypnotics with analgesics are usually not dangerous as long as a low dose of the painkiller is used.

However, alcohol may cause serious adverse effects especially if it is a large consumption. Alcohol interaction with any sedative or hypnotic may increase the risk of alcohol side-effects such as poor memory, drowsiness, sedation, imbalances, visual impairment, and loss of concentration. These risks can impair the functioning of a person and cause serious liver damage. Therefore, this medication should not be used together with alcohol.

It is also important to note that most of the analgesics cause sedation (especially stronger doses); hence, people are not advised to drive or perform vigorous activities that may impair the individual’s cognition. Driving while sedated may cause motor vehicle accidents.

Individuals who are pregnant should try to use analgesics that are less strong as they may affect pregnancy and the development of the unborn child. It is essential that individuals use the correct analgesics for the correct conditions, for example, period pain analgesics should not be used if one is suffering from arthritis pain. Using the incorrect painkiller may result in desired effects not being reached.

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