It is evident from the name that painkillers are substances that treat or diminish pain in the human body. There are different types of painkillers available in the market. How do painkillers work? How should one take them? Are there any side effects?

Painkillers can either be injected into the body, as in the case of morphine for severe pain, or taken orally such as Paracetamol, which can be used to diminish lesser pains. Oral medications are available as capsules, tablets, syrup or drops. Creams and ointments are also used topically for muscular as well as joint pain.

Painkillers can be categorised into three main groups:

  • Paracetamol
  • Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Opioids

These three different types of painkillers work in different ways. Usually people take painkillers for short periods of time, during which time the medication provides relief from the pain at hand. However, if pain persists one needs to see a medical practitioner in order to identify the reason for the pain and deal with the cause. There are some conditions which demand prolonged use of painkillers and need to be taken under the supervision of a medical practitioner.

How do Painkillers Work?

  1. Paracetamol
    Paracetamol targets the brain and works by stopping the production of pain at the source. It reduces the production of inflammatory substances and chemicals in the brain, which are usually referred to as prostaglandins. These inflammatory chemicals can be found anywhere in the body, but are mostly concentrated in the brain.
  2. NSAIDs
    Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) include aspirin and ibuprofen and have a different mode of action to that of Paracetamol. These medicines also cause the production of prostaglandins, but instead of targeting the brain, they target the prostaglandins present throughout the human body. It makes them very effective, but since they target the prostaglandins in the body instead of the brain, they end up affecting other bodily functions and organs as well.
    For example, if you are treating yourself for a sore knee, the NSAIDs could also have an effect on the lining of your stomach, which in turn could lead to the development of stomach ulcers.
  3. Opioids
    This type of medication targets the receptors in the human body, which are found in the central nervous system and the gut. They are also found in some other important parts of the body. Opioids increase your tolerance to pain, thereby reducing the pain your body is experiencing.

How to take painkillers?

When you are dealing with a condition that involves pain, it is advisable to take your medication regularly at specified intervals for the designated time period. Do not skip doses. If your pain is once off (such as a headache) it may only require a single dose to alleviate the pain. Always be sure to eat something before you take a painkiller, especially with NSAIDs in order to reduce any possible adverse effect on your stomach.

Try to limit the use of painkillers to shorter periods. Using them over long periods of time may have adverse effects. Take painkillers for the purpose of alleviating pain and when the problem has subsided, stop taking them.

There are some instances, such as arthritis, in which you may have to continue the use of painkillers, but consult your medical practitioner first.

Possible Side Effects of Painkillers

Never assume that medications do not have any side effect. Every type of medication has its own set of side effects. Side effects generally only occur when medicines are taken in large doses or for extended periods of time. Sometimes the combinations of two or more different kinds of medicines may also produce undesired effects.

Here are some of the side effects of the painkillers listed below:

  1. Paracetamol
    Generally speaking, Paracetamol is a safe medicine to consume if you follow the instructions and take correct dosages. Side effects may occur due to prolonged use or overdose, which may lead to permanent liver damage or death.
  2. NSAIDs
    NSAIDs do not have any life threatening or harmful side effects if used short term and at low dosages. However, in some cases, you can suffer from:

    1. Stomach ulcers
    2. Bleeding of the gut
    3. Cardiovascular problems
  3. Opioids
    The most well-known side effects of this medicine are:

    1. Nausea
    2. Vomiting
    3. Constipation
    4. A dry mouth
    5. Confusion
    6. Drowsiness
    7. Due to the nature in which these reduce pain, it is possible for people to become dependent on Opioids