The 11 most important questions about taking painkillers safely

Pain killers are available almost everywhere. However, in order to relieve symptoms without causing harm to others, it is important to understand how to take them safely.

Before you take a painkiller, read the information sheet that comes with it. This is important because every drug can have unwanted effects. Check for safe ways to use them:

How long can you treat yourself with painkillers?

It’s best to only do it for a short time, like for one dose of the drug. If this doesn’t work, the treatment can go on for up to 4 days, as long as the symptoms aren’t too bad and the drug works (i.e., we do not feel pain or have a fever almost all the time that remains until the next dose).

What does the abbreviation NSAID mean on drug leaflets?

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are what they are called. Agents with ibuprofen, acetylsalicylic acid, naproxen, or diclofenac are some examples. NSAIDs stop the body from making substances that, among other things, cause inflammation or the feeling of pain. Unfortunately, they also make it more likely that your stomach will get upset.

What health problems do you need to take painkillers with particular care for?

Do not take the medicine without consulting your doctor:

  • with paracetamol – with liver problems, alcoholism and when you are (or have recently been) under the influence of alcohol.
  • from the group of NSAIDs – with gastric or duodenal ulcer disease, kidney problems, taking diuretics, anti-diabetes or those related to the circulatory system.

Do you suffer from ailments other than those listed above? Also, stay vigilant. Any of the medications you are already taking may interact with your painkiller or change how it works.

Can painkillers be taken on an empty stomach?

Only in a few cases, like when the agent containing paracetamol needs to work faster. But you need to eat something before you take a combination drug or an NSAID. When you eat, your digestive system is less likely to get upset. If you don’t want the drug to work less well, it’s best to give up snacks with a lot of fibre (e.g. bran, graham, oatmeal). You should also know that you can drink milk or yoghurt before taking an NSAID medicine.

After what time and for how long should the painkiller take effect?

It usually takes half an hour for the medicine to reach a concentration in the blood to control pain or fever. However, how long this effect lasts depends on:

  • intensity of pain – the weaker it is, the faster and longer the drug works, so it’s best to take the agent when the pain just appears, and not when we are no longer able to bear it,
  • dose – but you must never exceed the maximum single dose of the drug, because it threatens dangerous side effects, besides it makes no sense. If the acceptable dose doesn’t help, then a higher one will too.

What should you take your painkillers with?

Take the tablets with lukewarm boiled water, as it does not change the absorption and action of the drug. Do not take the tablets with juices or drinks, as they slow down the processing of the drug and increase its levels in the body.

Caffeine is said to increase the analgesic effect of the drug. Is it worth taking tablets with e.g. coffee for a better effect?

Caffeine can increase the risk of side effects associated with excessive stimulation of the nervous system, such as headache, heart palpitations, insomnia, irritability, and concentration disorders. To avoid these effects, it is better to give up coffee during analgesic treatment or keep at least 2-hour intervals between taking the drug and drinking a beverage with caffeine.

Can taking painkillers reduce the effectiveness of contraception?

Yes, but mostly women who use the contraceptive spiral are affected by this problem. When you take NSAID pain relievers, the spiral doesn’t work as well. There is no such risk with hormonal birth control and painkillers that are taken as prescribed.

Can different measures be combined at times?

You must not combine agents from the same group, as this can lead to overdose and increase the risk of side effects. For example, paracetamol and ibuprof can be taken together, but ibuprof and acetylsalicylic acid should not be combined.

Is it worth using some form of painkillers other than tablets?

It all depends on what’s going on. The tablets are made for teenagers and grown-ups. If you have a sensitive stomach, you should choose ones that only break down in the intestines. The drug also comes in:

  • injections – they work the fastest, because the active substance goes straight into the bloodstream,
  • suppositories – have an effectiveness similar to tablets, but the drug bypasses the upper part of the digestive system, so it does not irritate the stomach and liver,
  • for external use ( patches, ointments, gels, sprays, solutions ) – they are milder, but local application of the drug significantly reduces the risk of side effects.

Why do people taking a cardiological dose of aspirin have to be careful with painkillers?

This rule applies mainly to NSAIDs. They can:

  • increase the risk of peptic ulcer disease and gastrointestinal bleeding,
  • reduce the anti-infarction properties of the cardiological dose of acetylsalicylic acid (commonly referred to as aspirin).


4th Professional Medical Student. Karachi Medical and Dental College.

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