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Painkillers – uses, health risks, and side effects at

Monday, September 24, 2018 by

Painkillers, which are drugs used to relieve pain, can be sold as an over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription drug. These drugs are often used to treat pain caused by arthritis, headaches, injury, menstrual cramps, sore muscles, surgery, toothaches, or other causes.

There are different types of painkillers, such as:

  • Aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid) – Aspirin is sometimes considered an NSAID.
  • Combination medicines – These may contain both Tylenol and an opioid.
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) – NSAIDs block the effects of prostaglandins, or chemicals in the body similar to hormones. NSAIDs like Advil (ibuprofen), Aleve (naproxen), Celebrex (celecoxib), and others minimize both pain and swelling.
  • Opioids (narcotics) – Opioids work by reducing both the pain signals sent by the nervous system and the brain’s reaction to these pain signals. Some brands of opioids include Avinza, Kadian, and MS Contin (morphine).
  • Tylenol (acetaminophen) – Tylenol works by changing the way the body senses pain.

Painkillers are also called analgesics or pain relievers.

Known health risks or side effects of painkillers

Painkillers may cause common side effects such as:

  • Constipation
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Dry mouth
  • A rash or itchy skin
  • A ringing in your ears
  • Upset stomach

You may require immediate medical attention if you experience severe side effects such as:

  • Addiction or dependence – Patients who take an opioid for a long time may develop a dependence as their body gets used to the drug. Others may also become addicted to opioids.
  • Heart attack, stomach bleeding, or stroke – NSAIDs may increase the risk of these conditions.
  • Liver damage – Large amounts of Tylenol may cause liver damage.
  • Reye’s syndrome – Reye’s syndrome is a rare disorder. It may cause brain and liver damage and it can occur in children who take aspirin.

List of organs that might be affected by painkillers

An overdose of opioid painkillers may cause complications like constricted/pinpoint pupils, loss of consciousness, or slowed breathing/depressed respiration.

Other indications of an overdose may include:

  • Cold, clammy skin
  • Drowsiness
  • Hypotension/lowered blood pressure
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Weak pulse

Food items or nutrients that have similar effects to painkillers

The following foods or nutrients have similar effects to painkillers:

  • Capsaicin – Topical capsaicin derived from hot chili peppers can help relieve pain. Capsaicin helps deplete substance P, a compound that transmits the pain sensation from the peripheral to the central nervous system.
  • Feverfew – Feverfew is traditionally used to treat headaches, stomachaches, and toothaches. Today, feverfew is also used to treat migraines and rheumatoid arthritis. However, pregnant women should avoid this remedy.
  • Ginger – Ginger extract can help ease joint and muscle pain since it has phytochemicals that may help stop inflammation.
  • TurmericTurmeric can help relieve arthritis pain and heartburn. It can also minimize inflammation. Turmeric has curcumin, a chemical with anti-inflammatory properties. Individuals with gallbladder disease shouldn’t use turmeric.

Treatment and management options for the side effects of painkillers

The following treatments and management options can help prevent the side effects associated with painkillers, such as constipation:

  • Apples Apples contain both fiber and pectin. The pectin in apples, which is rapidly fermented by bacteria, forms short-chain fatty acids that pull water into the colon, softens the stool, and decreases gut transit time.
  • Kiwifruit Kiwifruit has fiber and actinidain, an enzyme that can may be responsible for kiwifruit’s positive effects on gut motility and bowel habits.
  • Prunes/dried plumsPrunes, which are often used as a natural remedy for constipation, are full of fiber. Prunes have sorbitol, a sugar alcohol that the body can’t absorb well. Sorbitol allows water to be pulled into the colon, which causes a laxative effect in some individuals.

Where to learn more


Painkillers are drugs used to relieve pain.

Painkillers may cause common side effects such as constipation, dizziness, drowsiness, or nausea.

An overdose of opioid painkillers may cause complications like constricted (pinpoint) pupils, loss of consciousness, or slowed breathing/depressed respiration.

Capsaicin, feverfew, ginger, and turmeric have similar effects to painkillers.

Apples, kiwifruit, and prunes can help prevent the side effects associated with painkillers, such as constipation.

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