Pain is the number one complaint of older Americans, and one in five older Americans takes a painkiller regularly. In 1998, the American Geriatrics Society (AGS) issued guidelines (Journal of the American Geriatrics Society (1998; 46:635-651) for the management of pain in older people. The AGS panel addressed the incorporation of several non-drug approaches in patients’ treatment plans, including exercise.
AGS panel members recommend that, whenever possible, patients use alternatives to aspirin, ibuprofen, and other NSAIDs because of the drugs’ side effects, including stomach irritation and gastrointestinal bleeding. For older adults, acetaminophen is the first-line treatment for mild-to-moderate pain, according to the guidelines.
More serious chronic pain conditions may require opioid drugs (narcotics), including codeine or morphine, for relief of pain.
Pain in younger patients also requires special attention, particularly because young children are not always able to describe the degree of pain they are experiencing. Although treating pain in pediatric patients poses a special challenge to physicians and parents alike, pediatric patients should never be undertreated. Recently, special tools for measuring pain in children have been developed that, when combined with cues used by parents, help physicians select the most effective treatments.
Nonsteroidal agents, and especially acetaminophen, are most often prescribed for control of pain in children. In the case of severe pain or pain following surgery, acetaminophen may be combined with codeine.
Revision date: June 22, 2011
Last revised: by Dave R. Roger, M.D.