About 35% of Americans use over-the-counter (OTC) drugs regularly and much of these meds are analgesics. But recent revelations about the very real cardiac, liver, kidney, bleeding, and stroke risks that these popular medications present have led healthcare providers to reframe their recommendations about how we should use them.
“Since people can buy these pain medicines without a prescription they mistakenly believe they are completely safe. This simply isn’t true,” says Bruce Lambert, PhD, director of the Institute for Public Health and Medicine at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL. “Especially if you have other health problems, you need to take time to learn about these risks, either by reading about them on your own or by asking your doctor or pharmacist.”
So, if you don’t think of OTC pain relievers as serious medicine, chalk that up as mistake Number One. Here are 13 mistakes you may also be making.
TAKING THEM FOR EVERY ACHE AND PAIN
Two basic types of analgesics are available over the counter: Acetaminophen (Tylenol) and non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, which include ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen (Aleve), and aspirin. It is believed that acetaminophen works by blocking pain receptors in the brain. NSAIDS, on the other hand, block the production of prostaglandins, which trigger pain and inflammation when cells are damaged. “These are powerful drugs. If your pain is mild or moderate, there are lots of non-drug alternatives that you might want to consider first, like rest, or hot and cold therapies,” says Martin Hoffman, MD, FACSM, chief of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the Veterans’ Administration Northern California Health Care System. Research also shows that yoga and meditation can ease muscle tension and even change the way the brain responds to pain from migraines, arthritis, and other chronic conditions.