Pain Relievers or Pain Killers

Pain Relievers are medicines that reduce or relieve headaches, sore muscles, arthritis or any number of other aches and pains. There are many different Pain Medicines, and each one has advantages and risks.


Over the Counter (OTC) Pain Relievers are medicines that you can buy without a prescription from your doctor. Two main types of OTC Pain Relievers are available.

  1. Acetaminophen (one brand name: Tylenol).
  2. Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (also called NSAIDS). NSAIDs include the following:-
  • Aspirin
  • Ibuprofen
  • Naproxen
  1. Topical Corticosteroids (Cortaid and Cortizone)

Some products contain both acetaminophen and aspirin (brand names: Excedrin Extra Strength, Excedrin Migraine, and Vanquish).

How Pain Reliever or Pain Killers works

  • Acetaminophen seems to relieve pain and reduce fever by working on the parts of the brain that receive pain messages and control the body’s temperature.
  • NSAIDs relieve pain and fever by reducing the level of hormone-like substances (called prostaglandins) that your body makes. These substances cause the feeling of pain by irritating your nerve endings. They also are part of the system that helps your body control its temperature.
  • Topical Corticosteroids (Cortaid and Cortizone). These products include creams, lotions, or sprays that are applied to the skin in order to relieve pain from sore muscles and arthritis. Some examples of topical pain relievers include Aspercreme, Ben-Gay, Icy Hot and Capzasin-P. Corticosteroid creams are also available.

Prescription Pain Relievers

Prescription pain relievers include:-

  • Corticosteroids
  • Opioids
  • Antidepressants
  • Anticonvulsants (antiseizure medications)

Corticosteroids. Corticosteroids offer respite for inflamed areas of the body by lessening swelling, redness, itching and allergic reactions. Corticosteroids can be used to treat allergies, asthma and arthritis. When used to control pain they are generally given in the form of pills or injections. Examples include: Deltasone, Hydeltrasol, and Solu-Medrol.

Prescription Corticosteroids are strong medicines and may have serious side effects, including:

  • Weight gain
  • Upset stomach
  • Headache
  • Mood changes
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Weakened immune system

To minimize these potential side effects, corticosteroids are prescribed in the lowest dose possible for as short of a length of time as needed to relieve the pain.

Open bottles of Extra Strength Tylenol and Ext...
Photo credit: Wikipedia

Opioids. Opioids are narcotic pain medications that contain natural, synthetic or semi-synthetic opiates. Opioids are often used for acute pain, such as short-term pain after surgery. Some examples of Opioids include:

  • Morphine
  • Fentanyl
  • Oxycodone
  • Codeine

Opioids are helpful for severe pain and do not cause bleeding in the stomach or other parts of the body as can other types of Pain Relievers. It is rare for people to become addicted to Opioids if the drugs are used to treat pain for a short period of time. Side effects of Opioids may include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Nausea
  • Constipation
  • Itching
  • Breathing problems
  • Addiction

Antidepressants are drugs that can take care of pain and/or emotional conditions by adjusting levels of neurotransmitters (natural chemicals) in the brain. These medications can increase the availability of the body’s signals for well-being and relaxation, enabling pain control for people with chronic pain conditions that do not completely respond to usual treatments. Chronic pain conditions treated by low-dose antidepressants include some types of headaches (like migraines) and menstrual pain. Some antidepressant medications include:

  • Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) such as Celexa, Prozac, Paxil, and Zoloft
  • Tricyclic antidepressants such as Elavil, NorpraminSinequan, Tofranil, and Pamelor
  • Selective Serotonin and Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SSNRIs) such as Effexor and Cymbalta

These drugs require a steady dose of the medicine build up in the body over a period of time to work. The doses needed to treat pain are often lower than those needed to treat depression.

In general, antidepressants have fewer long-term side effects than frequent, ongoing use of other pain medicines. Generally, SSRIs and SSNRIs have fewer side effects than tricyclic antidepressants. The most common side effects with antidepressants include:-

  • Blurry vision
  • Constipation
  • Difficulty urinating
  • Dry mouth
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Headache

Anticonvulsants.  Anticonvulsants are drugs typically used to treat seizure disorders. Some of these medications are shown to be effective in treating pain as well. The exact way in which these medicines control pain is unclear but it is thought that they minimize the effects of nerves that cause pain. Some examples include Tegretol, Neurontin, and Lyrica.

In general they are well tolerated. The most common side effects include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea


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