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Painkillers do more than kill your pain


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Do you suffer from migraines, period pain, arthritis or sports injuries and take painkillers to make life more bearable?

Whilst these over-the-counter or prescription painkillers may be effective, they come at the cost of possible serious side effects.

Painkillers are non-steroidal-anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and people use them daily all around the globe. Some examples are Aspro, Nurofen, Voltaren, Celebrex and Naprosyn.

Although these drugs can be highly effective, it needs to be recognised regular use can be associated with severe side effects.

Adverse reactions can affect the gastrointestinal tract, the cardiovascular system and kidneys (1). Some of the abdominal symptoms typically experienced include nausea, abdominal pain, diarrhoea, flatulence and anorexia. People taking NSAIDs as part of their daily routine for one year should be aware that they expose themselves to an increased risk of upper gastrointestinal bleeding or ulcers (1).

What do painkillers actually do?

Imagine you have just sprained your ankle while running for the bus. The body mounts an inflammatory response by releasing inflammatory mediators initially causing pain and tissue break down. This process is then followed by tissue healing and recovering.

The use of NSAIDs interferes with the body’s natural inflammatory mechanism by blocking the release of hormones (prostaglandins) and enzymes (cyclooxygenase) that cause pain and inflammation (2), which can be seen as a good thing. However, the body then misses out on the beneficial phase of the inflammatory pathway, for example the production of white blood cells.

Do painkillers actually work?

The short answer is yes. However, studies on the effects of NSAIDs also confirm delayed muscle regeneration and impaired healing of ligament, tendon and cartilage (2). One study on acute hamstring injury and the use of NSAIDs suggests there is no greater reduction of pain and soft-tissue swelling amongst the NSAID users compared with those that used a placebo rather than NSAIDs.

What are some of the side effects?

Another point worth considering is the fact that a number of NSAIDs impair your immune system by inhibiting the antibody production of your cells. Research shows that painkillers taken after vaccinations or an infection reduce the body’s immune defence (3). This is particularly important for the elderly who respond poorly to vaccinations and are regular users of NSAIDs.

What are the alternatives to these drugs?

I can hear you say that sometimes it is impossible not to use these drugs. Luckily there are alternatives that have been proven to be at least as effective, but without the side effects. Some examples include fish oil  and tumeric (2) but there are many others depending on what type of pain you are trying to control.

Interested to find out more? Please contact me at Missing Link on 0457 584 459


(1)   Oman Medical Journal (2011); Vol. 26, No. 6:385-391
(2)   Surgical Neurology International. 2010; 1:80
(3)   Cellular  Immunology 2009; 258(1); 18-28


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