All about painkillers

Ibuprofen and paracetamol tablets

Painkillers are some of the most commonly used drugs. We explain what these medicines, including paracetamol, ibuprofen, aspirin, codeine and morphine, are used for and possible side effects.

Most of us have experienced pain – a headache, a pulled muscle or injury from a trip, slip or fall – that could be managed by over-the-counter painkillers. However, an increasing number of people are living with long-term pain as a result of conditions such as arthritis. In these cases, painkillers only available by prescription are always more effective.

Pain is a broad and complex area of healthcare. It covers short-term (acute) pain, such as headaches, pulled muscles and minor injuries, and long-term (chronic) pain, which can include inflammation of the joints.

Here we explain about varieties of painkiller and their uses and side effects.

Over-the-counter painkillers

Paracetamol

Uses Alternative uses Interactions with other medication Possible side effects
Mild pain (acute or chronic) To reduce temperature Anticoagulants (eg warfarin) Rarely, a rash or swelling

Aspirin

Uses Alternative uses Interactions with other medication Possible side effects
Mild pain associated with inflammation
(acute or chronic)
To prevent blood clots forming Ibuprofen
Some diuretics (water tablets)
Antidepressants
Indigestion
Vomiting
Bleeding in the stomach

Ibuprofen

Uses Alternative uses Interactions with other medication Possible side effects
Mild pain (acute or chronic) To reduce raised temperature
To reduce inflammation
Aspirin
Anticoagulants
(both warfarin and NOACs)
Indigestion
Heartburn
Stomach ulcers/
gastrointestinal
tract bleeding

Prescription-only painkillers

Co-codamol, co-dydramol, co-codaprin

Uses Alternative uses Interactions with other medication Possible side effects
Mild to moderate pain (acute or chronic)
(Milder forms are available over-the-counter)
None Antidepressants Constipation
Nausea
Diarrhoea

COXIBs (eg celecoxib, etoricoxib)

Uses Alternative uses Interactions with other medication Possible side effects
Head/tooth/back ache, sprains Arthritis, gout
Kidney/gallstones
Pain following major surgery
Neuralgia
Pain associated with cancer Aspirin
Anticoagulants
High blood pressure
Reduced kidney function
Stomach or duodenal ulcers

Opiates (eg codeine, tramadol, oxycodone, morphine)

Uses Alternative uses Interactions with other medication Possible side effects
Moderate to severe pain
(acute or chronic), commonly used
in end-of-life care
To relieve breathlessness
in heart failure
Antidepressants
Antihistamines
Some blood pressure
medications
Nausea
Vomiting
Itching
Constipation
Drowsiness
Dry mouth

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