Everything to Know about Analgesic: Side Effects & Precautions
When you have a headache, fever, back pain or another ache or pain that's just too much to bear, it can feel like the worst moment of your life. Analgesics, also called pain relievers or painkillers, are medications that reduce pain. These drugs target either the sensory processing neurons themselves or the neurotransmitters that send signals of pain from one location to another.
Many different types of analgesics are available—from nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin and ibuprofen to opioid analgesics such as codeine and morphine. Each type of analgesic has its own advantages and disadvantages. Understanding which kind is best for you will help you get through those moments when you feel like the world is ending because of your aches and pains.
What are Analgesics?
Analgesics are drugs used to reduce pain. They are also called painkillers or pain relievers. They work by interrupting the pathways by which pain travels through the body and is perceived by the brain. Stopping pain at its source can relieve not just the sensation of pain itself but also the myriad effects that pain has on the human body.
There are many different types of analgesics available – from nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin and ibuprofen to opioid analgesics such as codeine and morphine. Each type of analgesic has its own advantages and disadvantages.
Understanding which kind is best for you will help you get through those moments when you feel like the world is ending because of your aches and pains.
Types of Analgesics
NSAIDs: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen, aspirin, and naproxen work as analgesics by inhibiting an enzyme called cyclooxygenase. This enzyme is responsible for producing prostaglandins, which cause pain and inflammation.
COX-2 Inhibitors: These analgesics work like NSAIDs but avoid the gastrointestinal side effects that can occur with traditional anti-inflammatories. COX-2 Inhibitors include celecoxib, etoricoxib, and rofecoxib.
Acetaminophen: This analgesic (found in Tylenol) works by increasing the amount of a compound in your blood that transports heat.
Over-the-counter Combination Medications: These are a combination of an NSAID and acetaminophen.
Opioids: These include morphine, codeine, and oxycodone. They work by binding to receptors in the brain that reduce pain sensation.
Combination Medications: There are also combination medications that include an NSAID and an opioid.
How do Analgesics Work?
A headache is one of the most common reasons people seek medical help. According to the National Headache Foundation, about 40% of the world's population will suffer from a headache at some point in their lives. The pain sensation is triggered by chemicals called neurotransmitters. They are released in a specific location, such as the scalp or the nerves in your neck. They then cross the synapses, or tiny gaps, between the nerves and travel to the brain.
When the neurotransmitters reach the brain, they trigger the release of chemicals called endorphins. These chemicals create the sensation of pain in your head. Analgesics interrupt this process by blocking the release of endorphins and other neurotransmitters. Another way analgesics work is by reducing swelling and inflammation. They also work by blocking the transmission of pain signals between the nerves in the central and peripheral nervous systems.
Advantages of Analgesics
- Analgesics work quickly. They reduce the pain sensation within 15 to 30 minutes.
- Analgesics are non-addictive, unlike opioid analgesics, although they are often prescribed together.
- Analgesics are inexpensive.
- They can be used to treat a wide range of conditions and diseases that cause pain.
- If pain is sudden or short-lived, an analgesic can bring it under control until it goes away on its own.
- You can take an analgesic any time of the day or night.
- You can combine analgesics with other medications for other conditions, such as blood pressure medication or diabetes medication.
- People with certain health conditions, such as mild arthritis or digestive problems, can benefit from mild analgesics.
- Some analgesics, such as acetaminophen, are safe to take while pregnant.
- Analgesics can be used with other treatments for pain, such as relaxation techniques and exercise.
- If you have a headache and take an analgesic, you can go on with your day.
- You can take analgesics for any type of pain, whether it's caused by an injury, arthritis, a headache or a cold.
Disadvantages of Using Analgesics
- Analgesics reduce the sensation of pain, but they do not reduce the severity of the pain. So, if you injure yourself and take an analgesic, you will not notice the extent of the injury.
- Analgesics are addictive, especially opioid analgesics if taken in high doses or over long periods.
- They do not address the underlying cause of the pain. If you have a headache and take an analgesic, the headache won't go away completely.
- An analgesic can cause side effects and complications, such as nausea, dizziness and drowsiness.
- They can cause liver damage if you take them with an infection or liver disease.
- You can't take certain analgesics if you have high blood pressure or diabetes.
- Analgesics do not reduce inflammation.
- If you have an injury, you should see a doctor if it lasts longer than a week or if the pain recurs frequently.
- If you have frequent headaches, you should see a doctor because they can be a sign of a serious condition.
- If you have recurring joint pain, you should see a doctor because an inflammatory disorder could cause it.
Conclusion: Benefits of Analgesic
When you're experiencing pain, the best course of action is to see a doctor. Analgesics are not meant for long-term use and will not address the root of the pain. Instead, they will only mask the pain and relieve you until the drug wears off. When you experience pain, you should always see what can be done to relieve it without taking drugs.
There are many different ways to reduce pain and make it easier to cope with. You can try warm compresses, rest and exercise, meditation, and a healthy diet to reduce pain and stress. Analgesics are helpful when you have no other choice, but it's best to use them only when necessary.