Over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription pain relievers treat a variety of problems. OTC drugs ease pain from arthritis, headaches and muscle strains. Prescription painkillers provide stronger relief for chronic pain or severe pain after trauma or surgery. Opioids and some antidepressants and anti-seizure medications also relieve pain.
Pain relievers ease discomfort brought on by illness, injury, surgical procedures and chronic conditions. Everyone experiences pain differently. Pain may come on suddenly (acute). Chronic pain can last for months or years.
Pain relievers go by many names:
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There are many different types of pain relievers. The best one for you depends on many factors, including the cause of pain and its severity.
Types of pain relievers include:
Common OTC pain medications include:
OTC pain medications lower fevers and ease pain from a variety of problems, including:
Prescription pain medications provide stronger pain relief than OTC drugs. Types of prescription pain relievers include:
Prescription pain relievers can alleviate pain brought on by:
OTC pain relievers are relatively safe when you follow the directions on the label. Acetaminophen and NSAIDs can be hard on the liver and kidneys. You shouldn’t take them if you have kidney disease or liver disease.
The risk of liver damage from acetaminophen is higher if you take more than 3,000 milligrams in a day. You may also develop liver problems if you combine the drug with alcohol.
Children under 18 should not take aspirin. It can cause a life-threatening illness called Reye’s Syndrome. Give other NSAIDs instead.
Except for aspirin (which thins the blood), prolonged use of NSAIDs can increase your risk of heart attacks and strokes. People with existing heart problems or high blood pressure are most at risk. If you need NSAIDs for more than 10 days , see your healthcare provider.
NSAIDs can also increase your risk of:
Prescription painkillers are powerful drugs. They carry a higher risk of problems than OTC medications.
Opioids can be addictive and lead to substance abuse. To lower this risk, healthcare providers only prescribe opioids for short-term use. For example, you may take opioids for a few days after surgery.
Prescription medications for pain may cause side effects, such as:
If you had a cesarean section (C-section) birth or a difficult labor and delivery, you may need pain relief. Let your provider know if you plan to breastfeed. Certain opioids are safer for nursing babies. OTC pain relievers are safe to use while nursing.
You should call your healthcare provider if you are taking pain medicine and experience:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Pain relievers can bring a welcome break from aches and discomforts. You can find acetaminophen and anti-inflammatory drugs in a lot of OTC products. These include medicines for allergies, colds and flu. It’s important to read the labels to make sure you don’t get too much of a pain medication. Many nonaddictive pain medicines are available for chronic pain. Your healthcare provider can work with you to find the right medicine to help you enjoy better, pain-free days.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 04/13/2021.
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