Pain medications

Alternative names
MEDICATIONS for pain; Drugs for pain; Analgesics

Information

Pain medications (analgesics) are not all the same. Each pain medication has its advantages and risks. Specific types of pain may respond better to one kind of medication than to another kind. Each person may have a slightly different response to a pain medication.

Over-the-counter medications are good for many types of pain. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is good for relieving pain and fever. It is less irritating to the stomach than other over-the-counter pain medications and is safer for children. It can, however, be toxic to the liver if you take more than the recommended dose.

Aspirin, naproxen (Alleve), and ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) are examples of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). These reduce inflammation caused by injury, arthritis, or fever. NSAIDs also relieve pain associated with menstruation. Take these medications in regular dosing intervals as directed by the manufacturer until the pain is gone.

However, DO NOT give aspirin to children. Reye’s syndrome is associated with the use of aspirin to treat children with viral infections, such as chicken pox. This syndrome can cause brain and liver damage.

Prescription medications may be needed for other types of pain. There are specific uses and risks of prescription narcotic and non-narcotic medications.

There are other methods to help reduce pain instead of, or with, using pain medications. These include heat for sore or overworked muscles, ice applied to recent injuries (such as a sprained ankle), massage, resting the affected part, and biofeedback or relaxation techniques.

Consult your doctor if pain lasts longer than a few days, if over-the-counter pain medications are not helping reduce the pain, or if other symptoms arise. A consultation with a pain clinic or other specialist may be helpful for control of long-term pain.

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 6, 2012
by Simon D. Mitin, M.D.

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