If you’re in pain, it’s tempting to reach for a bottle of pills. Painkillers are readily available over the counter and can help take the edge off a headache or an injury. But before you pop one of these common medications, you should know that they all come with their side effects and risks.

Not All Painkillers Have the Same Side Effects

Some types of painkillers, like ibuprofen and naproxen, are more likely to cause stomach problems, while others are less likely to. Some medications will cause constipation, while others can increase the risk of bleeding by thinning your blood. And some drugs have unpredictable side effects, even when you take them exactly as prescribed by your doctor.

For example, even though all opioids are generally considered safe for short-term use after surgery or injury and typically aren’t addictive, they could still lead to dependency if you take them for more than two weeks straight without giving your body time off from the medication.

The most serious side effects also vary based on how much you weigh. Heavier people are at increased risk of developing liver damage from acetaminophen overdose because they require more pills per pound than lighter individuals do for their bodies to process the drug safely. 

Those who consume alcohol while taking pain relievers may experience even higher levels of toxicity due to alcohol’s ability to intensify certain medications’ effects. Older adults who take prescription pain relievers over long periods may be at higher risk for psychological addiction. 

Non-steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)

NSAIDs are the most common type of over-the-counter pain medication. They can help you relieve mild to moderate pain, such as that caused by arthritis or menstrual cramps.

However, NSAIDs can also cause serious side effects and complications. For example, they may increase your risk of stomach bleeding or ulcers if taken for more than 10 days in a row. In addition to stomach problems, long-term use of NSAIDs has also been linked to kidney problems and heart attacks, even in people with no other risk factors for these conditions.

If you’ve been taking NSAIDs regularly for several weeks or months without seeing any improvement in your symptoms, talk with your doctor about switching medications or treating your pain using methods other than drugs, like heat therapy or cold packs.


Acetaminophen is a common painkiller often used for headaches, muscle aches, and back pain. You can find it under the brand names Tylenol and Panadol. Acetaminophen can be found in combination with ibuprofen (as in Advil) or codeine (as in Vicodin).

Acetaminophen has been linked to an increased risk of autism or ADHD in children through its use by expecting mothers during pregnancy. The research shows that mothers who used an average of about 2 grams per day of acetaminophen had a 25% increased risk of having a child with behavioral problems at ages 4 to 7 years old.

As per a recent report on Reuters, a federal judicial panel has created a new Tylenol Autism Lawsuit against its major retailers for failing to warn the public about the potential risk involved in using the product.  

The judicial panel sent 18 such lawsuits for pretrial proceedings in Manhattan in October this year and 48 additional cases to a newly created multidistrict litigation. The plaintiffs’ lawyers also claim that “tens of thousands” of similar lawsuits would eventually be filed.

Opioids (Narcotics) And Opioids With Acetaminophen

According to a WebMD report, 1 in 10 Americans used a prescription painkiller. Breaking that down, 6 out of 11 American adults used prescription opioid painkillers.

Opioids are a kind of painkiller that can be very effective at reducing pain. However, they’re also highly addictive and may cause side effects such as nausea, vomiting, constipation, and drowsiness.

Opioids may also slow or stop breathing. This is because opioids reduce the drive to breathe, which can be life-threatening. Some people are more likely than others to experience this respiratory depression when taking opioids. These include people who have taken opioids before and those with other health conditions affecting breathing, such as sleep apnea or chronic lung disease.

Some opioids with acetaminophen, like Vicodin, contain both an opioid (hydrocodone) and acetaminophen (paracetamol) in each tablet/capsule, making it easy for some people to take too many of these medicines at once accidentally. This results in serious side effects, including liver damage.

Take Away

As per the GlobeNewsWire, the pain medication market surpassed 21.8 billion USD in 2022 and is expected to exceed 27.7 billion USD in 2028.

When it comes to over-the-counter painkillers, there’s a lot to consider. For starters, keep an eye on the potential side effects of taking these medicines before you take them. 

That means reading the label and package insert, talking with your doctor, and weighing your options carefully. All with an awareness of how much time you have left until your next dose is due.

The bottom line? There’s no such thing as a completely side-effect-free painkiller. But there are ways that you can help minimize the impact they’ll have on your body and mind. Make sure you know what those are before reaching for that bottle.

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