With more than £360m spent on them a year, us Brits are partial to a painkiller or two; chances are you have your go-to favourites, but are they really the right medication for the job? We spoke to Pink Parcel’s resident GP, Dr Tatiana Lapa to find out what you should be taking when and whether branded products make a difference...
What painkillers should you take for basic aches and pains?
It depends on the problem you're experiencing. For example, headaches are best treated with paracetamol (one gram, four times per day) or aspirin (300mg, taken at the first signs of a headache), whereas back pain, sports injuries and sprains respond better to anti-inflammatory medication like ibuprofen (400mg, three times per day). Stomach aches, however, should never be treated with painkiller as they can irritate the stomach – instead, take Gaviscon or Buscopan.
What about period pain?
Period pain responds much better to anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen, which is helpful because it relieves the pain and also helps with the cause of pain (blood clots). However, be wary of pills that are branded specifically for period pain – while some do contain additional products that speed up the process of ibuprofen getting into the blood stream, they cannot target pain in specific areas of the body.
Can you take painkillers with a fever?
As a rule, paracetamol is much gentler on the body so should be taken in the case of a fever – it can actually help to reduce the body’s temperature within an hour. Take two tablets (each tablet is 500mg) and use every six hours for the first three days of illness. After the first three days, just use paracetamol when needed.
What if you've had one too many the night before?
After a heavy night of drinking, the last thing you want to do is irritate your stomach further by taking medication such as ibuprofen. Stick to paracetamol – just remember to take it with plenty of water.
What exactly is aspirin and when should it be used?
Aspirin is from a family of medications called 'non-steroidal anti-inflammatories'. It behaves in similar ways to ibuprofen but is particularly effective at thinning the blood due to its effect on platelets. For this reason, small doses of aspirin are often used in health conditions where blood clotting needs to be reduced, for example, for those with a history of heart problems or stroke. Aspirin is also useful for those who suffer from regular migraines.
Is there any benefit to buying branded painkillers?
Many branded products claim faster absorption and pain relief, but in reality, there is little difference. Generally, branded products are unnecessarily more expensive, and generic products are just as effective. Similarly, be wary of products that have ‘plus’ or ‘extra’ added to their name as this often refers to the amount of caffeine added rather than the amount of painkiller.
Are there any side effects of taking painkillers regularly?
It's definitely not recommended to take painkillers regularly. Firstly, it's important to get to the root of the problem and try to address this. Secondly, some problems can actually be caused by regular use of painkillers, such as medication-induced headaches. Thirdly, regular use of medication can cause health problems like liver toxicity, stomach ulcers or kidney damage. Sometimes, after thorough investigation and treatment, the problem can't be solved and the pain just needs to be managed. In these situations, your doctor needs to optimise your painkillers so you’re using a safe and effective dosage.
And do you believe herbal painkillers work?
Yes, definitely. Pain is a perception of the brain and anything that helps with this – from aromatherapy to massage and even herbal therapies – can be extremely effective. Some patients can transition from needing high doses of morphine and spinal injections to managing their pain using just aromatherapy and acupuncture. There is definitely something powerful in alternative therapies, even if we don't fully understand it.
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