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HeadWay, Issue #067 -- When to NOT buy Painkillers
April 21, 2009

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In this month's issue:

When to NOT buy Painkillers

News bits

Say what?!  Analgesic

When to NOT buy Painkillers

"Take two aspirin, and call me in the morning."  It's a classic phrase that's become a part of the English speaking culture.  And the idea is that, chances are, your problem isn't serious and a simple painkiller will get you through the night.

But there are problems with this view of pain.  While it may help one person, it may actually make things worse for someone else.  It's natural, when you get a headache, to simply grab a common brand name painkiller off the shelf and take a couple pills.  But is there a better way?

The roots of pain

The first thing to think about.  Where is the pain actually coming from?  There may actually be treatments designed to deal with the type of pain you have.

Look at it this way.  Let's say two medications will both get rid of your pain equally.  One is a targeted medication, designed for your type of headache.  The other is more general.  The first will kill your pain, the second will completely knock you out.  Wouldn't you rather have the medication that takes care of your pain and helps you continue with life as normal?

The difference is not always that obvious, but generally speaking you'll have less side effects, and more benefits, with a medication that we know works well for your type of pain.

By simply taking a painkiller for a headache, you may be treating a symptom and not treating the disease.

It's not just pain

Sometimes the pain of headache is so severe that we forget, or don't realize, that there are other symptoms going along with it.  You might be better off with a medication that treats not only pain, but dizziness.  Or nausea.  Or that sensitivity to light and noise you feel.  Wouldn't it be better to take a medication that gets rid of 3 bad symptoms, than one that simply kills the pain and nothing else?

The value of a doctor's opinion

Another problem with grabbing a painkiller off the shelf, is that many people never bother to see a doctor.  We talked about this a little in the last issue.  But the fact is many people live with a lot of pain, just because they keep trying to treat it with painkillers and "live with it", when they could be getting treatment that really works.

Rebound headache

One of the classic problems with painkillers is that people start to need more, and more, and before they know it they're taking something every other day, or even several times in one day!  This is a very common problem called rebound headache, or medication overuse headache.

With many medications (some more than others), your body can eventually start to "need" the drug.  When you don't take it, you actually get a headache, and those headaches get worse and more frequent over time.

Common culprits are aspirin, acetaminophen (paracetamol) (ie Tylenol, Excedrin Migraine), and ibuprofen (ie Advil).  Also, medications containing butalbital (ie Fioricet or Fiorinal), and medications with opiates such as codeine (ie Tylenol #1).

Many people taking these medications don't need them at all, or could find much more relief with another type of treatment.

(Note: Even some more targeted medications can cause problems if taken too frequently.  This includes migraine medications such as triptans (ie Imitrex, Frova) and ergotamine (ie Ergomar).)

News bits

Say what?!  Analgesic

Analgesic (from  A drug or medicine given to reduce pain without resulting in loss of consciousness.  Usually the terms "analgesic" and "painkiller" mean the same thing.  You may also hear the term analgesia, which refers to the inability to feel pain while you are conscious.

Thanks for reading!  Remember, if you have feedback or ideas for future issues, visit the HeadWay MailRoom.  Your password is nomoache.
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