Pain Medications

Pain is your body’s way of letting you know that something has gone awry and requires your attention. Without pain, you wouldn’t know to pull your hand away from a hot pan, stop walking on an injured ankle, or treat a cut. While pain is useful, it can also be debilitating. Chronic pain, pain following surgery, or lingering pain from an injury can interfere with sleep, daily activities, and your mental well-being. There are many pain medications available to ease the suffering caused by pain. However, all pain medications, from over-the-counter meds to heavily controlled substances, carry certain risks to your health.

14. Ibuprofen


Ibuprofen is a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID). You may also know this medication by the brand names Advil or Motrin. According to RxList, NSAIDs work by inhibiting the effects of prostaglandins in your body. Since prostaglandins play a role in pain, inflammation, and fever, inhibiting them reduces these symptoms. However, prostaglandins also help protect the lining of your GI tract, help your blood to clot, and play a part in kidney function. This means taking too much ibuprofen can contribute to stomach ulcers, bleeding, and kidney damage.

13. Aleve


Aleve, or naproxen sodium, is another NSAID. As such, it carries the same risk of ulcers, excessive bleeding, and kidney damage caused by other NSAIDs. NSAIDs such as naproxen sodium carry a warning that usage, especially over a long period of time, may increase an individual’s risk of heart attack or stroke. Those with other risk factors for heart attack or stroke such as high cholesterol, diabetes, high blood pressure, or smoking, may be at even greater risk. Furthermore, it is critical to avoid taking NSAIDs if you are using other meds that may thin the blood.

12. Aspirin


Aspirin joins ibuprofen and naproxen sodium in the category of NSAIDs. The long-term use of aspirin also carries with it a risk of bleeding. Aspirin increases the risk of bleeding due to its blood-thinning properties. Furthermore, you should not give aspirin to children due to the risk of Reye’s syndrome. When children use aspirin, particularly during a viral infection, they are at greater risk of this syndrome and its damaging effects on the brain and liver.

11. Tylenol


Tylenol or acetaminophen is a pain medication that also helps to reduce fevers. While this medication does not carry a risk of heart disease, stroke, ulcers, or bleeding, it is not without risks of its own. Tylenol is processed by the liver, and too much of this drug can result in irreversible liver damage. The risk of liver damage is increased for those who drink more than three alcoholic drinks per day. While Tylenol is available over the counter, it is crucial to follow the package directions when using this medication.

10. Ambien


Although Ambien is not a pain medication, some doctors may prescribe this drug to help a suffering patient fall asleep. While this medication may help individuals to achieve sleep despite their aches and pains, this drug is not without risks. In April 2019, the FDA began attaching warning labels to the sleeping pills Ambien, Lunesta, and Sonata. This warning states that the use of these medications may result in serious injuries due to sleep behaviors such as sleepwalking, sleep driving, and other activities that require alertness.

Related: FDA Reinforces Warnings About Health Risks Posed by Everyday Painkillers

9. Fentanyl Patches

Fentanyl Patches

Fentanyl patches are sticky patches that deliver doses of opioid pain medication through the skin. This medication is a highly addictive painkiller that physicians typically use in patients who are experiencing severe pain and are unable to take pain medications by other routes. When used appropriately, fentanyl patches can be highly effective for reducing severe pain. However, in the wrong hands, the addictive properties, risk of drug interactions, and potential for overdose make this medication extremely dangerous.

8. Gabapentin


Gabapentin is an anti-seizure medication that has value in treating nerve pain. Side effects of gabapentin may include drowsiness, weakness, headache, blurry vision, GI issues, and memory problems. Furthermore, studies suggest gabapentin should be avoided by those who suffer from chronic kidney disease. Gabapentin is available under the names Neurontin, Gralise, or Gabarone.

7. Ketamine


According to Medical News Today, ketamine is an anesthetic used in hospitals and medical centers for certain surgical procedures. This drug also finds its way onto the street, where it is used and abused for its sedative and hallucinogenic effects. While ketamine may also be useful for treating conditions such as pain and depression, using this drug carries many risks. Risks include addiction, memory loss, psychosis, seizures, and breathing issues.

Related: 6 Ways You’re Hurting Your Liver That Aren’t Drinking

6. Marijuana


Harvard Health Publishing reports that pain management is the most common use for medical marijuana in the United States. While marijuana may be less addicting than opiate medications, this drug may affect memory, learning, and understanding. Marijuana may also affect your blood pressure and contribute to respiratory problems. The Mayo Clinic lists several side effects of marijuana use, including headache, dizziness, drowsiness, paranoia, a feeling of disconnectedness, and coughing.

5. Oxycodone


Oxycodone is a narcotic pain medication that is effective against moderate to severe pain. You can find oxycodone in prescription medications such as OxyContin, Percodan, and Percocet. While highly effective for treating pain, this opioid analgesic is also highly addictive. According to The Addiction Center, one of the highest risks of oxycodone use and abuse is the risk of an accidental, fatal overdose. Other side effects include nausea, vomiting, dizziness, drowsiness, and lightheadedness.

4. Hydrocodone


Hydrocodone, found in prescription medications such as Lortab and Vicodin, is another opioid pain medication used for severe pain. This medication is also a habit-forming drug that carries the risk of addiction. The depressant effects of this narcotic may interfere with breathing. Other possible side effects include drowsiness, headache, stomach pain, swollen ankles, and shaking.

Related: 11 Medications That Cause Memory Loss

3. Steroids


While not strictly pain medications, steroids are sometimes used alongside pain medications for their anti-inflammatory effects. Unfortunately, the Arthritis Foundation reports that the benefits of injectable or oral steroid medications do not last long-term. Furthermore, suppressing the immune system through the use of steroid drugs can have adverse effects on health. Other side effects of corticosteroids include weight gain, swelling, mood swings, restlessness, and muscle weakness.

2. Topical Diclofenac

Topical Diclofenac

Pennsaid is a topical medication that contains the anti-inflammatory agent diclofenac. This medication can provide relief for arthritic knee pain. Unfortunately, the topical use of this NSAID carries the same risk of heart attack and stroke seen with the use of oral NSAIDs. Since some of the medication is absorbed into the bloodstream, topical NSAIDs also carry the risk of GI ulcers and bleeding. Furthermore, the topical application of this medication can cause skin irritation.

1. Ultram


Tramadol or Ultram is a synthetic pain reliever that works by binding to pain receptors in the brain. This helps decrease the sensation of pain by preventing the brain from receiving pain messages from other parts of the body. Like other pain medications, this prescription drug has the potential for addiction. Furthermore, as with other pain medications, the use of this drug may cause respiratory depression or difficulty in breathing. Additional side effects include drowsiness, heartburn, headache, and nervousness.

Related: Dangers of Prescription Drugs


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