Analgesic medicines are split into three groups:
- Non opioids
- Combined analgesics
Opioids analgesics are also known as narcotic analgesics or opiates. They are used to ease moderate to severe pain and are often prescribed to patiens who are recovering from operations, severe injuries or to ease severe pain. Some opioid analgesics are:
Non-opioids are also called non-narcotics. They are used to ease mild to moderate pain from headaches, toothache and muscle and joint pains. Many non-opioid analgesics can be bought over the counter at chemists and supermarkets. Non-opioid analgesics are:
- Mefenamic acid
Some non-opioids also have anti-inflammatory properties. These are known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS). There are over twenty types including:
Some analgesics combine both mild non-opioid drugs such as aspirin or paracetamol, with a small amount of opioid in a single tablet. These combination analgesics are often prescribed to people who are not benefiting from non-opioids, like paracetamol, alone. Combined analgesics are:
- Aspirin with codeine
- Dextropropoxyphene with paracetamol
- Paracetamol with codeine
- Dihydrocodeine with paracetamol
Some combination painkillers can be bought over the counter and contain smaller quantities of opioid painkiller than those available on prescription
Painkillers – what are they used for?
Analgesics are used primarily for pain relief. They treat the symptoms of a condition rather than the condition itself.
Some pain relieving medicines have other properties too. For example, aspirin can be used to ease inflammation and is also used to reduce the risk of blood clots forming. Paracetamol is used to reduce a fever or high temperature.
Analgesics are a quick and effective way of coping with mild to severe pain. Most analgesics take from thirty to sixty minutes to start working if taken in tablet form, although intravenous or injected painkillers are often much quicker to take effect.
Who can use Painkillers?
It is always best to find out what the problem is before treating the symptoms. In other words, just taking analgesics may relieve pain but it may also hide the cause of the pain eg if you have an underlying condition.
Some painkillers, such a aspirin, should not be used by pregnant or nursing mothers, although other painkillers are considered safe. A GP, pharmacist or midwife should be consulted before taking any kind a medication.
Children under sixteen years should not take aspirin, unless under the guidance of a specialist, as it may increase the risk of Reye’s syndrome, a condition that affects the brain and liver.
You should always consult you doctor before taking analgesics if you are already taking other forms of medication.
Paracetamol can be used by all ages and is most suitable for minor pain and for reducing a high temperature.
Mild non-opioids, like paracetamol, may cause serious health problems if taken in large quantities, so it is best to make sure that your current medication does not contain analgesics or ingredients that may react badly to analgesics.
Opioids may make you feel drowsy and should not be taken with other medicines that have similar effects. You should not drink alcohol while taking analgesics.
You should consult your doctor or pharmacist before taking analgesics, including over the counter painkillers if you have, or have had, any of the following conditions:
- Liver or kidney problems
- Prostate problems
- Heart or circulation problems
It is advised that you speak to your pharmacist before buying any painkillers that have not be prescribed by your doctor or hospital doctor.
The dose will depend on the type of analgesic used and the condition it is being use for. Follow the instruction on the packet or enclosed information, unless otherwise directed by your doctor.
Seek medical attention immediately if you suspect an overdose has occurred, either deliberately or by accident.
Any possible side effects are listed in the instructions that come with the medicine, although the majority of side effects do not last long and are not a serious risk to health.
It is best to take aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs after a meal as they can irritate the stomach and in extreme cases may cause indigestion, ulcers or bleeding. Tinnitus ( ringing in the ears) can indicate that you have taken too much aspirin. Other side effects of aspirin can include nausea, vomiting and acute asthma in people with asthma.
Aspirin interacts with several other medicines so if you experience any difficulty breathing, wheeziness or breathlessness, or develop a rash on any part of your body, stop taking the medicine immediately. Visit your doctor or pharmacist who will advise you about an alternative pain relief medicine.
Paracetamol is a relatively safe, mild analgesic, with few known side effects. However, if taken in very large amounts can have serious side effects including liver damage or failure.
Opioid analgesics may cause severe constipation, nausea or vomiting and drowsiness. Other side effects can include a dry mouth, itching, sweating and in rare cases hallucinations. Opioids are usually proscribed for use over short periods. Some evidence suggests that long term use may increase the risk of addiction as opioid analgesics may give the user feeling of euphoria.