elderly woman looking concerned reading the label on her medicine bottle

Know the Dangers of Over the Counter Pain Medication

It can be so easy to reach for an over-the-counter pain (OTC) reliever when your muscles ache or your head starts throbbing. But Wait! Did you know that, every year in this country, these non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) lead to complications serious enough to send over 100,000 adults and children to the hospital?  Even more frightening, more than 16,500 Americans die every year from over-using OTC pain medications they probably bought at their local pharmacy or grocery store.

Clearly, that bottle of aspirin or ibuprofen is not as safe as you may think. Just because it does not require a doctor’s prescription does not mean it is without serious health risks.

Is everyone susceptible to the dangers of NSAIDs?

No one is safe from the dangers associated with taking too many NSAIDs. They are equally harmful to everyone. Age and health status do not matter, nor does your gender. If you are overusing OTC pain relievers, you are at risk of adverse effects like kidney and liver damage or stomach bleeding and ulcers.

No wonder more and more healthcare providers are encouraging even chronic pain sufferers to try natural alternatives for managing their pain, and avoid the damage caused by long-term use of OTC pain medications. Even people living with conditions like carpal tunnel, fibromyalgia, neuropathy, and osteoarthritis can find relief in natural alternatives to NSAIDs.

How to avoid the risks of OTC drugs

Start by reading the warning labels on all OTC medications before using them. The FDA requires warning labels for all OTC drugs. On each label, consumers can find the following information in this order:

  • Active ingredients, including the dosage amount per unit.
  • Purpose of the product.
  • Indications for use.
  • Specific warnings about the product, including when (or who), should not use it and when to consult a doctor or pharmacist. Side effects of using the product also are listed in this section.
  • Dosage instructions (when, how, and how often to take it).
  • Inactive ingredients so consumers can avoid allergic reactions.

All drug labels include information about what happens if you exceed the recommended dosage, combine NSAIDs with other medications, or consume alcohol while taking them.

What are the risks of using non-prescription pain relievers and NSAID abuse?

Let your fingers do the walking on Google and you will likely give yourself a panic attack when you see the list of possible risks associated with overuse of non-prescription pain relievers. For starters, people can become addicted to NSAIDs just like they can become addicted to opioid painkillers. Here is what happens to your body when you misuse OTC pain relievers.

  • Your blood changes. This is especially a risk when using too much aspirin since it can damage red blood cells. Aspirin also thins your blood, making it more difficult for your blood to clot if you cut yourself. This OTC medication should never be taken with if you are on a prescription blood thinner, unless your doctor directs you to do so.
  • You can develop high blood pressure. One study found that men who frequently used OTC pain relievers were 38 percent more likely to develop high blood pressure than their drug-free counterparts.
  • You can damage your liver. Acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol products, causes three times as many liver failure cases as all other drugs combined. In fact, it is the most common cause of acute liver failure in the U.S.
  • You can develop stomach and intestinal ulcers. NSAIDs thin the lining of your digestive organs. When you take too many of them, you end up burning a blister-like sore right through that protective lining, otherwise known as an ulcer.

Protect yourself from the dangers of OTC pain relievers

Using a little common sense goes a long way in protecting yourself from the dangers of NSAIDs and other OTC pain medications. We already discussed how to read warning labels and the information you can expect to find there. Here are some other ways to keep yourself safe from adverse effects.

  • Never self-prescribe. Not everyone has the same pain tolerance. People with low thresholds for pain may think a higher-than-recommended dose of OTC pain relievers will stop their pain faster. This is a dangerous game that can lead to some of the risks we mentioned above. If you are dealing with chronic pain, or even severe pain that is new, consult with your doctor before assuming you know what is best for treating it. If you do take OTC drugs, never take more than the recommended dose. It is a slippery slope that can end with damaged internal organs and even death.
  • Do not wash down NSAIDs with alcohol. Alcohol causes stomach and intestinal irritation. So does aspirin. When you put the two together, you are asking for trouble. Ulcers and gastrointestinal bleeding are just two of the adverse side effects. The risk is not just with aspirin. Research suggests if you down three or more alcoholic drinks per day while using acetaminophen, you are at increased risk of developing liver damage.

Opting for herbal pain relief

You do not have to turn to the OTC pain reliever aisle in your local store to manage your pain. There are several effective and affordable natural remedies for pain management. Premiere’s Pain Spray Mist or Pain Spray Roll-On temporarily relieves common aches and pains. A favorite for more than 30 years, it delivers fast relief without any of the harmful side effects linked to OTC pain relievers.

Aromatherapy is another great option for natural pain relief. Diffusing lavender or peppermint essential oils (or blending them into shea butter and applying it directly to affected areas) can help. Both these essential oils have natural anti-inflammatory properties. Combining the power of lavender, peppermint, and menthol can help with headaches and muscle aches. Try it before reaching for that bottle of aspirin. Your liver (and kidneys, and other internal organs) will thank you for it.

Be well and pain-free, friends!

 

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