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What are pain relievers?

Pain relievers, also called analgesics, include over-the-counter (OTC) medicine such as aspirin, acetaminophen (Tylenol), and ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin). "Over the counter" means you can buy them without a prescription. Some pain relievers contain two or more drugs in one pill. When taken as directed, they're usually safe and effective treatments for headaches and other minor aches and pains. Some of them also reduce fever.


What can happen if I take too much medicine?

Depending on the type of pain reliever, taking larger doses than recommended or taking them longer than recommended can lead to serious health problems, such as problems with your kidneys, heart, stomach, or liver. Make sure you always read the label and follow the directions, and if you have any questions talk with your pharmacist or health care provider.


How can I stay safe?

In general, don't take an OTC pain reliever for more than 10 days for pain and 3 days for fever. If you have pain or fever for longer, tell your health care provider. Read the product labels carefully and don't exceed the recommended dosages. If a measuring tool such as a dose cup or dropper comes with your medicine, use it as directed.


Many OTC medicines contain more than one type of pain reliever. For example, many cough and cold medicines and sleep aids contain acetaminophen. Check the ingredient list before you take any OTC medicine to make sure you're not getting too much of any one medicine and avoid taking medicines that contain the same active ingredients. Talk with your pharmacist or health care provider if you have any questions.


If you're over age 60; are taking prescription blood thinners such as warfarin (Coumadin); have had stomach ulcers; have other bleeding problems; have high blood pressure, heart disease, or kidney disease; or are taking a diuretic ("water pill"), talk with your health care provider before using pain relievers. To be safe, always talk with your health care provider about the best pain reliever for you.


If you're taking pain relievers, drink six to eight glasses of nonalcoholic and noncaffeinated fluids per day to help flush the medicine through your kidneys unless your health care provider has limited your fluid intake. Make sure your health care provider knows about all the medicines you take, including any other OTC medicines and herbal supplements.