Whether you have a toothache or a headache, taking non-prescription pain medication may turn the tide of pain from terrible to tolerable. But there are so many over-the-counter pain medications available, so choosing the right OTC option can be confusing. And experts warn that just because these meds are easily purchased, it doesn't necessarily mean they are safe.
"Over one-third of Americans suffer needlessly from pain," Dr. Jacob Teitelbaum, author of "Real Cause, Real Cure," tells Newsmax. "Statistics show that roughly 8 out of 10 of us routinely reach for OTC pain pills to relieve headaches, backaches, sore muscles, fevers, and colds. But these so-called safe medications also account for serious gastrointestinal distress, sending over 200,000 people to the hospital each year."
It's important not only to choose the right pain meds for your condition, but to honor the dosage, says Teitelbaum. Here are the top OTC medications and their benefits and risks:
Benefits: This is perhaps the safest of all pain meds, says Teitelbaum. It eases pain and lowers fever. It's good for headache and arthritis pain.
Risks: Acetaminophen is generally safe and shouldn't cause upset stomachs. It could cause liver damage over time. Adults should not exceed 4,000 milligrams a day. Check the labels of other medications you may be taking to see if they include acetaminophen so you don't accidentally take too much.
Benefits: This type of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) reduces fever, pain, and inflammation. It's the right choice for menstrual cramps, headaches, toothaches, backaches, arthritis, muscle sprains, and gout.
Risks: NSAIDs, with the exception of aspirin, can raise the risk of heart attacks or strokes by a whopping 40%. This translates to 50,000 deaths from these medications in the United States each year, says Teitelbaum. They can also cause stomach bleeding, accounting for thousands of bleeding ulcer deaths each year.
Benefits: This NSAID also works well with pain, relieving inflammation and fever. Use it for colds, menstrual cramps, backaches, toothaches, and arthritis.
Risks: The risk for stomach problems is the same as with the other NSAIDs, but naproxen may be a safer choice than ibuprofen for people at risk of heart disease, according to some studies.
Benefits: Its pain-relieving origins go back more than 2,000 years. It's a good choice for headaches, toothaches, colds, and fever, and may also slow blood clots from forming. Many doctors recommend taking one aspirin a day to help lower the risk of strokes and heart attack in certain individuals.
Risks: If you take daily aspirin, wait at least 30 minutes before taking any other NSAIDs since they make the aspirin less effective if taken together. Aspirin can also cause an upset stomach and should not be given to children or teenagers who have any sort of flu or viral infection. Aspirin has been linked to a rare but serious illness called Reye's syndrome in the younger population.
The key is finding which medication is best for you, says Teitelbaum. Some alternative pain relievers are yoga, acupuncture and cognitive behavior therapy or CBT.
"Certain herbal mixes have been shown to be more effective and much safer than OTC pills," notes Teitelbaum. "An especially effective one is Curamin, which in head on studies was more effective than standard arthritis medication in relieving pain and caused zero deaths. Another is called End Pain, and contains natural herbal pain relievers."
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