Analgesics: an overview

When pain occurs, it is normal to want to relieve it as soon as possible. Fortunately, we can count on the effectiveness of various analgesics.

When pain strikes

Everyone knows about pain. And that's a good thing because it is a warning signal that is essential for survival. Imagine if a fracture wasn’t painful or if a burn was only noticeable by the smell! The body needs pain to know that something is wrong.

Pain has a unique characteristic—it cannot be seen, it can only be felt. As long as it is not expressed, others are not aware of it. Pain is most often acute, that is, short-lived, like a toothache, sore throat, headache or earache. Fortunately, it is usually only transient.

Pain that persists over time (more than three months) becomes an illness in itself. This is referred to as chronic pain. People who live with this reality face a major challenge. In addition to affecting quality of life and well-being, chronic pain can lead to function loss, other physical disorders, and altered mental health.

Some of the many causes include the following:

  • diabetes
  • arthritis
  • shingles
  • cancer
  • fibromyalgia
Analgesics: an overview

Analgesics: rescue medication

When people feel pain, they want it to stop as soon as possible. Pain relief medications are called analgesics or commonly known as pain relievers. Some are sold over-the-counter, while others require a prescription. Because there are so many available on the market, it can be difficult to understand the differences between the options available.

Several factors should be considered when choosing an analgesic: the person's age, health, medical history, other medications they take, the type of pain and its causes, intensity, etc. This article focuses on the most common analgesics. 

Acetaminophen

The best known and most popular pain reliever, acetaminophen is also the safest. It is a basic pain reliever used in a variety of contexts. It's good to have at home for temporary pain, such as a headache or sore throat. Hospitals use it as a first-line treatment. When it fails to provide relief, other options are used.

However, be careful! Although it seems harmless, acetaminophen can be dangerous if taken in too large or too frequent doses.

Acetaminophen

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID)

NSAIDs relieve both pain and inflammation. Some require a prescription, while others do not. They are very effective pain relievers and are particularly useful when there is an inflammatory component, such as in the case of an injury, toothache, menstrual cramps or arthritis. Ibuprofen is a well-known example of this drug class.

NSAIDs should be used with caution, as they carry an increased risk of side effects, especially of the digestive tract (e.g., stomach upset or abdominal pain, nausea, constipation). Moreover, many people should be careful or refrain from using them because of their health, medical history, and the medications they are taking. It's always best to consult a doctor or pharmacist before taking an NSAID.

It should be noted that aspirin was once a widely used NSAID. Today, it is used less frequently because there are safer alternatives that are just as effective for pain.  

Opioids

Opioids, also called narcotics or opiates, include drugs such as codeine, morphine, oxycodone, and hydromorphone. Their use is usually reserved for more severe pain, such as pain related to serious injury, surgery or cancer.

It is preferable to use them for a short period at the lowest effective dose, since there is a significant risk of side effects (e.g., drowsiness, dizziness, confusion, nausea, and constipation). Additionally, they can be habit-forming or addictive when taken for a long time. Therefore, their use requires more caution. 

Other options

A number of medications have proven to be effective in relieving pain without being considered analgesics per se. For example, certain anti-epileptic drugs, antidepressants, and antihypertensives are used to prevent and relieve chronic pain associated with a number of conditions: migraines, fibromyalgia, post-shingles pain, etc. There are many situations and options, and each case is unique.

If you experience pain, don't suffer in silence. The first thing to do is to speak to a trusted healthcare expert. Don't hesitate to speak to your pharmacist if you have any questions about the use of pain relievers.

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Analgesics: an overview

Sometimes mild, other times unbearable, pain is part of the life course of human life. Fortunately, there are analgesics to relieve it!
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