Do you pop a painkiller every time you have a headache?

You’re not alone. In the UK, the average adult takes 373 painkillers each year, according to a report by the British Medical Association, with one in 20 taking at least six painkillers every time they feel ill.

However, this reliance on over-the-counter tablets can have serious repercussions.

TV presenter Judy Finnigan, 70, revealed recently she needed two life-saving blood transfusions when she developed stomach ulcers after taking ibuprofen “like sweeties” to help with a painful knee injury.

Stuart Gale, chief pharmacist at oxfordonlinepharmacy.co.uk , explains everything you need to know about the four main painkillers you can buy over the counter without a prescription.

Each type of pain relief tablet has different properties and risks

Paracetamol

This blocks prostaglandins, stopping pain messages to the brain. It also lowers temperature.

Brands: Hedex, Panadol, Disprol.

Dose: One or two 500mg tablets up to four times a day. No more than eight tablets – 4,000mg – can be taken in 24 hours.

Pros

  • Safe for all ages over three months, including pregnant and breastfeeding women, for general pain relief such as backache, toothache and headaches .

  • Can be taken without food.

  • Has fewer side effects than NSAIDs and doesn’t cause stomach irritation.

  • Available in tablets, caplets, capsules, liquid and effervescent tablets (for children) and suppositories.

Cons

Top tip: Brands marked “Extra” may contain caffeine which can enhance pain relief but may affect sleep.

 

Aspirin

It works similarly to ibuprofen, reducing the production of prostaglandins.

Brands: Aspro Clear, Disprin, Anadin.

Dose: One to three 300mg tablets every four hours. No more than 12 tablets – 3,600mg in total – in 24 hours.

Pros

  • Good for sore throats, headaches and alleviating flu symptoms as it lowers temperature and also joint pain.

  • Also available as an effervescent tablet.

Cons

  • Not suitable for under 16s to take.

  • Irritates the stomach lining so can cause stomach ulcers and bleeding.

  • Can cause thinning of the blood so not suitable for those on warfarin. Can interact with certain prescription medicines and cause tinnitus if overused.

Top tip: In lower doses, aspirin helps prevent clots that can cause stroke or heart attack. However, discuss with your GP before taking.

 

Ibuprofen

This non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) works by targeting and reducing the production of prostaglandins, hormone-like chemicals responsible for inflammation, pain
and fever.

Brands: Nurofen, Cuprofen, Anadin Ibuprofen.

Dose: No more than two 200mg tablets every four to six hours. A maximum of six 200mg tablets – 1,200mg – in a 24-hour period.

Pros

  • Particularly useful for treating sporting injuries and inflamed joints.

  • It works quite quickly.

  • Available as tablets, capsules, gel or cream, sprays and liquid (for kids).

Kate Hind opinion on new look Loose Women, Judy Finnegan
Judy Finnegan’s dependence on Ibuprofen left her fighting for her life

Cons

  • Can damage the stomach and gastro-intestinal tract if taken in high doses, especially in the over 50s. Prolonged and heavy use can lead to blood pressure and kidney problems. Can cause asthma attacks in asthmatics.

  • Can interact with some antidepressants, beta–blockers and diuretics.

  • Take with or after food to avoid gastric irritation.

Top tip: If taken regularly, speak to your GP about also taking a proton-pump inhibitor to protect the stomach.

NSAID creams and gels can be just as effective with no gastric side effects.

 

 

Codeine

Codeine is an opioid drug that mimics endorphins and enkephalins. It doesn’t work well on its own so is usually sold in combination with paracetamol or ibuprofen.

Brands: Solpadeine, Co-codamol, Nurofen Plus, Feminax, Migraleve.

Dose: Read the instructions but, for example, Co-codamol has 8mg of codeine with 500mg of paracetamol which can be taken four-hourly, with no more than four doses in a 24-hour period.

Pros

  • Effective for more severe pain, such as arthritis , muscle and ligament pains, migraines and period pain.

  • Available in capsules, tablets and effervescent tablets.

  • Can induce a relaxed and serene feeling.

Cons

  • Addictive so it should not be taken for more than three days. Can cause side effects like drowsiness, nausea and constipation.

Top tip: Take the smallest dose needed for the shortest period.

 

Source