The dangers of everyday painkilling medication

I just read a Pubmed article which stated that Paracetamol is the commonest drug taken in overdose in the United Kingdom, accounting for 48% of all poisoning admissions to hospital and an estimated 100–200 deaths per year.

which is rather frightening don’t you think?

Many of us experience pain such as headaches, migraines, backaches, period pains, and joint pains at some point in our lives. And many of us think nothing of popping a few painkillers to deal with the problem, so we can carry on with life.

However there are a couple of major problems with this approach –

  • Pain is always an indication of internal body problem – usually some form of inflammation, and masking it rather than dealing with the root cause is not beneficial long term.
  • Pharmaceutical painkillers can cause you harm.

Inflammation in the body can arise from several causes

  • Physical trauma and injury to tissues
  • Toxicity from infection
  • Chemical toxicity due to substances ingested, inhaled or applied to the skin
  • Nutritional deficiencies or imbalances

Pain killing drugs work by interfering with the body’s inflammatory response mechanisms to reduce inflammation and the associated pain. Inflammation is part of the body’s natural healing response and often shows itself as heat, redness, swelling and pain, both internally and externally. Inflammatory processes are the body’s way of indicating that some part needs healing. If these warning signs are ignored, suppressed, or not dealt with then chronic conditions such as diabetes, cardio-vascular disease, asthma, obesity or cancer can be the result.

These drugs which are designed to work by inhibiting the body’s pro-inflammatory processes are known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and include ibuprofen, aspirin, naproxen, and diclofenac amongst others.  They are used for short-term pain relief for acute problems such as headaches or backaches. They are frequently used long-term for more chronic pain such as that associated with arthritis, or as a blood thinning agent as in the case of aspirin.

However these painkilling drugs not only stop us from acknowledging or dealing with the cause of pain, but may also cause damage. All of these drugs come with a list of warnings and potential side effects in the packet.

Commonly acknowledged side effects include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Indigestion
  • Abdominal pain

Less common effects include:

  • Gastritis
  • Duodenal or gastric ulcers
  • Allergic reactions e.g. rash
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Fluid retention
  • Raised blood pressure

Taking painkillers such as Ibuprofen on a regular basis can increase your risk of stroke, heart attacks and even cause infertility.

There is also evidence that using NSAIDs more than 2-3 times a week can cause headaches, rather than treating them. About 5-10% of the UK population may have medication overuse headaches due to regularly taking painkillers (for original headache symptoms), several times a week over several months. This is probably similar in other western countries too. Regularly taking painkillers for other problems such as back-ache is more likely to cause gastro-intestinal damage, such as bleeding and ulcers.

Another growing problem is addiction to painkillers. Many people are developing a dependence on these seemingly harmless painkillers which they take for everyday problems such as headaches, period pains and back-ache. Codeine based products and other opiod painkillers can be addictive and may produce withdrawal symptoms after just a few days use.

A few thoughts to ponder on:

  • Do you regularly use over the counter painkillers?
  • Or maybe you have been prescribed long term pain killers by your doctor?
  • Are you aware of the dangers of such medicines?
  • Have you suffered any ill-effects.