Men's Health, Naturally Healthy Living, Women's Health

Do You Know the Dangers of OTC Pain Medications?

Disclaimer: The following information has not been approved by the FDA. This information should not be interpreted as medical advice and is not a substitute for a visit with a medical care professional. Always speak to your doctor about any health concerns. 

We Americans love our drugs. We have shelves stocked full of painkillers, decongestants, anti-inflammatories, allergy medications, sleep aids, and more. Most of over-the-counter medications, and especially our painkillers, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil and Motrin), and naproxen (brand name Aleve), are even available in bulk.

With such availability and quantity, it’s hardly surprising that most of us aren’t aware that these over-the-counter (OTC) pain killers can actually be dangerous — and even deadly. It’s all too common for patients to accidentally overdose or have a serious drug-drug interaction by mixing various OTC pain medications together or with prescription drugs.

Despite the overwhelming magnitude of the adverse effects and fatalities associated with medications, the hidden, yet entirely preventable dangers of the pain killers stocked on your local pharmacy shelves aren’t often the topic of conversation.

Today, we’re aiming to change that.

Common Over-the-counter Pain Relievers

Acetaminophen is one of the most well-researched and well-documented pain killers. When used correctly, acetaminophen can be safe and effective for treating short-term pain.

But taking acetaminophen correctly is actually far more complicated that it sounds. Acetaminophen is found in over 600 over the counter and prescription pain medications. Because so many drugs (prescription and otherwise) contain acetaminophen, individuals who are taking multiple forms of drugs are putting themselves at risk of overdosing, which causes serious and potentially irreversible liver damage and acute liver failure.

This occurs so frequently that acetaminophen overdoses are the leading cause of poison control calls in the United States (more than 100,000 cases per year) and lead to more than 56,000 emergency room visits.

Acetaminophen isn’t the only danger, however. Dependance on, or overdosing on ibuprofen is, in the words of Dr. Oz, ‘a stroke waiting to happen’. Ibuprofen puts users at higher risk for strokes and heart attacks. It can also damage your kidneys and contribute to stomach bleeding.

Aspirin also raises some red flags. While proven to help prevent heart attacks and strokes in some instances, in other situations, aspirin can contribute to the risk of stroke through bursting blood vessels. Daily use of aspirin can prevent blood clot formation, but also increases the risk of bleeding. It can lead to stomach ulcers, bleeding from an already present stomach ulcer, trigger or worsen asthma, cause tinnitus (ringing in the ears), hearing loss, and potentially leads to kidney or liver damage.  

How to Prevent Overdosing on OTC Pain Medications

We’re not entirely against the use of OTC medications when appropriate, but we strongly feel that it’s important to know exactly how and when to use them, and what alternatives might be available.

Don’t Ignore Recommended Doses

Too many of us believe that the ‘one-size-fits-all’ mentality of recommended doses just shouldn’t apply to us (looking at you, athletes and body-builders!). The idea is often that if a little is good, more is better.

The reality is, more is actually dangerous  — no matter your size. The dangers of OTC painkillers become exponentially increased when the recommended dose guidelines are not followed, warnings ignored, and directions overlooked.

Be Cautious of Long-Term Use for Treating Chronic Pain

OTC pain medications are intended to treat short-term illnesses and discomfort. Ingesting them over a long period of time as a way to handle chronic pain or illness can lead to many adverse effects, including toxicity and overdose, as well as a worsening of the disease that you’re attempting to treat or cover up.

This situation is especially common among athletes. Using a painkiller to relieve pain from injuries or overexertion can be helpful as long as it does not make your injury worse (by hiding the problem) or lead to long-term use and, subsequently, risk of heart attack, stroke, liver failure, and many other life-threatening issues.

Don’t Use Painkillers for Other than their Recommended Use

A common example of misuse of OTC pain killers is that of Tylenol PM or similar products used to help people sleep. While this is an effective drug to use while trying to recover from an illness, it is NOT a safe or effective way to fall asleep each night. Such consistent use can lead to liver toxicity and long-term damage.

Beware of Combining Medications

Because many OTC pain relievers, such as acetaminophen, are in many other OTC and prescription medications, it can be easy to exceed the safe limit without even being aware of it. For example, the generic name for Tylenol is acetaminophen and for Vicodin, acetaminophen hydrocodone. Those individuals who don’t check the label or know this can easily exceed the recommended dose by taking both.

Even for those drugs that do NOT contain acetaminophen or double up on a dose of the same drug, mixing some types of medications can lead to serious side effects. For example, The New England Journal of Medicine suggests that combining acetaminophen and the nasal decongestant phenylephrine can raise phenylephrine (PE) levels in the blood as much as four times what it should be. This leads to insomnia, dizziness, and increased blood pressure.

OTC pain killers can also interact with prescription medications, such as blood thinners, antibiotics, and NSAIDs. Even toothpaste and mouthwash with fluoride can present a danger if mixed with the wrong OTC. The FDA even classifies anti-perspirants as OTC drugs because they usually contain aluminum.

The best route to take is to consistently check all medications and prescriptions that you currently take with your medical doctor and pharmacist for possible drug interactions. Consult a medical professional that is aware of any current or prior health concerns you’ve experienced, before you begin taking any medications.

Alternatives to OTC Pain Medications

There are natural alternatives to common medicine cabinet pain medications! While they won’t always solve every problem, some can be extremely effective without any side effects or dangers. Though, we do remind you again to check with a trusted medical practitioner before changing or stopping any medications!

Curamin or CuraMed for Temporary and Chronic Pain Relief

Curamin and Curamed,  contain curcumin, a highly effective anti-inflammatory that has matched Cortisone as a pain reliever and anti-inflammatory. It has nothing but positive side effects and none of the risk associated with other pain killers. In addition to being a powerful pain reliever, it’s also antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, anti-allergenic, and an antioxidant.

As our most popular supplements for reducing pain and inflammation, these products have helped numerous customers find relief from chronic pain, injuries, arthritis, colitis, gastritis — basically any kind of ‘itis’ you can name. If you’re struggling with pain, we strongly urge you to try this out.

Magnesium for Migraines

Those who suffer from migraines are often found to have lower levels of magnesium than are optimal. Magnesium can decrease the number of migraine attacks by up to 40%. As a muscle relaxer, it can also help those who suffer from stress migraines and muscle tension relieve the neck and back pain that often accompany a migraine.

Omega 3’s for Joint Pain

Joint pain can be relieved or reduced by increasing your healthy fats. Omega 3’s provide lubrication for inflamed joints, helping them move more smoothly without increasing irritation. This nutrient also helps keep your intestinal tract healthy, which can reduce overall inflammation throughout your body and decrease the pain caused by arthritis.

Digestive Enzymes for Stomach Pain

There’s a booming business in antacids and medications to treat acid reflux. For some, the use of digestive enzymes to help your stomach naturally break down your foods (especially identified problem foods, such as wheat and dairy) will help you digest more thoroughly. This improved digestion can significantly reduce or eliminate stomach pain, without any damage to your system.

Heating Pads with Essential Oils

Essential oils are an easy, healthy way to relieve or reduce pain. Just warm up a heating pad, mix the essential oil into a carrier oil, and rub it onto the afflicted area. Then, place the warm pad over the area and relax for a while. Alternatively, the essential oil can be dripped onto a towel or onto a rice-filled heating pad directly (it will stain). Various types of essential oils can offer the following benefits:

  • Muscle relaxant
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Rheumatism
  • Arthritis
  • Decongestants
  • Muscle soothing
  • Sciatica

Have more questions? We’d love to talk to you about pain solutions for long-term and short-term care. Give us a call at (608) 571-1094 or drop by one of our store locations to learn more.


*Disclaimer: All information and recommendations given on this site, in email correspondence, newsletters or other materials provided by The Healthy Place is for informational and educational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice nor be viewed as a substitute for a face-to-face consultation with a healthcare provider. Consult a licensed healthcare practitioner before modifying, stopping, or starting the use of any medications, health programs, diets, and/or supplements, as well as regarding any health concerns you may have. Our statements and information have not been evaluated or approved by the Food and Drug Administration. As with any health-related program, product, or service, your risks and results may vary. We expressly disclaim responsibility to any person or entity for any liability, loss, or damage caused directly or indirectly as a result of the use, application, or interpretation of the information provided to you here.”


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Rynn Jacobson is a content writer living in Seattle, WA. She's passionate about educating people on natural and alternative health and wellness options. Her favorite way to stay healthy is drinking herbal tea and hiking in the mountains.

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