Pain

NSAID Cardiovascular Warning

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has amended the existing cardiovascular warning on non-aspirin nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), including the active ingredients ibuprofen, ketoprofen (Rx only), magnesium salicylate, and naproxen sodium to state that these medicines can increase the risk of heart attack or stroke. Click here.

Let’s face it, no one likes to be in pain. Whether you have sore muscles from overexerting yourself at the gym, a bad headache, or recurring discomfort from an ongoing health condition, you will likely find yourself in need of pain relief from time to time.

What Is Pain?

Pain is a general signal that something is wrong in the body. Physical pain occurs when nerves identify tissue damage and send a signal about the issue to the brain. Physical pain can be described in many ways, such as aching, throbbing, burning, and shooting pain.

And there are different types of pain. Acute pain is short-term pain that comes on suddenly and is caused by something specific, like an accident or injury. It goes away when there is no longer an underlying cause for the pain. Chronic pain is pain that is ongoing and can continue even after the injury or illness that caused it has healed or gone away.

Some of the most common types of pain include arthritis pain, back pain, headache, joint pain, muscle pain, neck pain, and toothache.

It is important to know that everybody has a different pain tolerance, so the most effective approach to pain management is one that is tailored to you. Sometimes you can manage pain with rest, alternating use of ice and heat, or taking over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers. If your pain lasts longer than ten days, it is important to reach out to your doctor or other healthcare professional.

Find out which oral over-the-counter pain relievers are right for you.

Complete our Pain Reliever Assessment to learn how your personal risk factors can influence which OTC pain relievers you should use.

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Oral OTC Pain Relievers

Over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers are internal analgesic medicines that can treat mild to moderate pain. Many oral OTC pain relievers can also reduce fever.

Most of these medicines are intended to be taken by mouth in the form of pills or liquids. They come in a variety of forms, including tablets, capsules, liquid solutions, and syrups. Others are intended to be inserted into the rectum in suppository form.

There are two basic types of oral OTC medicines that work as pain relievers:

Oral OTC Combination Pain Relievers 

Oral OTC combination pain relievers are any pain relievers that contain acetaminophen and NSAIDs. People taking combination pain relievers should read the Drug Facts label to understand the risks and side effects associated with each active ingredient. 

 Common Brands: 

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Safe use tips for oral OTC pain relievers

  • Always read and follow the Drug Facts label carefully. The label tells you important information about the medicine, including the ingredients, what you are supposed to use it for, how much you should take, and when you should not take the product.
  • Talk to a doctor, pharmacist, or other healthcare professional before using more than one pain reliever or fever reducer at the same .
  • Stop use and contact a healthcare professional if your pain gets worse or lasts more than 10 days.
  • If a severe allergic reaction occurs and you experience symptoms such as hives, facial swelling, asthma (wheezing), shock, skin reddening, rash, or blisters, immediately seek medical attention.
  • If you take low-dose aspirin for protection against heart attack and stroke, be aware that some NSAIDs, including ibuprofen and naproxen sodium, may interfere.
  • If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, talk to your doctor or other healthcare professional before use.
  • Talk to your healthcare professional if you have questions or concerns about which OTC pain reliever to take.

If you think you have taken or given too much of a medicine, immediately contact a healthcare professional or Poison Control at 888-222-1222.

Topical OTC Pain Relievers

Topical OTC pain relievers, or external analgesics, are medicines that are applied and absorbed through the skin. Depending on the active ingredient, topical pain relievers are intended to treat a number of different conditions, including inflammation, minor body aches and pains, sunburn and other minor burns, itching and some skin irritations. They are typically available in the form of sprays, lotions, creams, gels, ointments, patches, and medicated wipes.

Types of topical OTC pain relievers:

Always read and follow the Drug Facts label carefully. The label tells you everything you need to know about the medicine, including the ingredients, what you are supposed to use it for, how much you should take, and when you should not take the product.

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Safe use tips for topical OTC pain relievers

  • Do not apply more or for a longer period of time than what the label recommends unless you are under the supervision of a healthcare professional.
  • Only apply to the outer surface of the body. Do not apply topical pain relievers to wounds or damaged skin. Stop using topical medicines if skin irritation develops. Avoid getting the product in your eyes.
  • If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, talk to your doctor or other healthcare professional before use.
  • Talk to a healthcare professional before using an OTC topical pain reliever containing benzocaine, camphor, diphenhydramine, hydrocortisone, lidocaine, menthol, or pramoxine in a child age 2 and under.
  • Talk to a healthcare professional before using an OTC topical pain reliever containing methyl salicylate or trolamine salicylate in a child age 12 and under.
  • Talk to your healthcare professional if you have questions or concerns about which OTC pain reliever to take.

If you accidentally swallow a product, immediately contact a healthcare professional or Poison Control at 888-222-1222.

Learn More About Pain Management

There is a lot to consider when it comes to managing your pain. Understanding which treatments work best for you is important.   

Take our Pain Reliever Assessment to learn about your personal risk factors and which oral OTC pain reliever is right for you.  

Read our Expert Advice articles to learn how to use OTC medicines safely and effectively.