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What are pain relief medicines?

Pain relief medicines, also called analgesics or painkillers, help ease many types of aches and pains such as headaches, arthritis, toothaches, back pain, muscle aches, and menstrual cramps.They include the over-the-counter (OTC) medicines acetaminophen (Tylenol), aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), and naproxen (Aleve). Aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen are also known as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs. "Over the counter" means you can buy them without a prescription. Some OTC pain relief medicines contain two or more drugs in one pill.


Acetaminophen relieves pain and reduces fever by working on parts of the brain that receive pain messages and control your body temperature. NSAIDs work by reducing the amount of certain substances in your body that cause pain.


When taken as directed, acetaminophen and NSAIDs are usually safe and effective treatments for headaches and minor aches and pains. They can also help reduce fever.


What can happen if I take too much medicine?

Taking more than the recommended dosages won't make the medicine work any better or faster. Instead, taking larger doses than recommended or taking the medicine longer than recommended can lead to serious health problems such as kidney, heart, stomach, or liver damage. Make sure you always read the Drug Facts label on the package and follow the directions carefully. If a measuring tool such as a dose cup or dropper comes with your medicine, use it as directed. If you have any questions, talk with your pharmacist or healthcare provider.


How can I stay safe?

In general, don't use more than one OTC pain relief medicine at one time unless your healthcare provider says it's okay. Many OTC medicines intended for purposes other than pain relief also contain a pain reliever. For example, many cough and cold medicines and sleep aids contain acetaminophen. Experts warn adults not to take more than 3,000 milligrams of acetaminophen daily. Check the ingredient list before you take any OTC medicine to make sure you're not getting too much of any one medicine. Avoid taking medicines that contain the same active ingredients.


Talk with your pharmacist or healthcare provider before using pain relief medicines if you:


* are over age 60


* take prescription blood thinners such as warfarin (Coumadin), clopidogrel (Plavix), or dabigatran (Pradaxa)


* take steroids


* have had stomach bleeding or ulcers


* have other bleeding problems


* have high blood pressure, heart disease, or kidney disease


* are taking a diuretic ("water pill")


* drink three or more alcoholic beverages a day.



To be safe, make sure your healthcare provider knows about all the medicines you take, including any other OTC medicines and herbal and nutritional supplements.