Pain is a symptom experienced by individuals as a signal that something is not alright with the body. Due to the discomfort experienced as a result of pain, most people resort to either to seeing a health care worker or self-medicate with over the counter (OTC) painkillers which are bought from clinics or drug shops.

There are several classes of painkillers which vary in strength and are thus used depending on the intensity of pain an individual suffers. The focus of this discussion is OTC painkillers which commonly belong to a class known as NSAIDs (Non-Steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs). These drugs act by inhibiting production of a chemical in the body known as prostaglandins – which mediates pain and inflammation pathways in the body.

Common examples of members in this drug class include paracetamol, ibuprofen, diclofenac, indomethacin among others. Some exist as tablets for oral intake or fluids for injection

Treating pain is merely symptomatic treatment because the painkillers just hide the pain but do not treat the cause of the pain. That said, so long as the cause of the pain is not eliminated, one might find himself/herself taking these painkillers for longer periods of time and thus are more likely to experience side effects of the drugs

Side effects include:

  • Liver damage which is mostly linked to paracetamol
  • Peptic ulcers or simply known as ulcers
  • Bleeding from the stomach due to irritation
  • Kidney injury
  • Pregnancy complications like miscarriages especially if drugs are taken during the first 20 weeks of pregnancy
  • Risk of over bleeding notably with aspirin, although aspirin is no longer recommended as a painkiller

Side effects can be minimized by the following ways

  • Take medications as prescribed by a qualified health worker
  • Eat food just before or after taking these drugs
  • For females, rule out pregnancy before starting on these drugs
  • Avoid these drugs if you’ve been previously diagnosed with kidney or liver failure, and ulcers