Are your painkillers overkill?

August 01, 2012, 10:50 AM GMT+0

47% Britons generally rely on paracetamol for pain and fever, 26% ibuprofen, 9% aspirin

When considering which over-the-counter painkillers are most commonly used for a headache or other pain, the most common choice is paracetamol, with our poll showing it is taken by almost half of the British population. Half as many would prefer to use ibuprofen to quell their pain, while around one in ten would most often choose to mix paracetamol and codeine

  • Almost half of Britons (47%) rely on paracetamol as a common painkiller
  • Surprisingly, a quarter (26%) would prefer to take ibuprofen for headache or other general pains
  • 9% say they prefer something stronger and rely on painkillers which comprise of paracetamol & codeine
  • 3% take aspirin as a regular painkiller
  • 4% rely on another medicine
  • 7% take none of these as they claim to ‘never take any painkillers’
  • Meanwhile, 2% say they ‘never get headaches or other pains’

Interestingly, of the few who claim to never take painkillers and/or never suffer pain that requires medicinal relief, there is a noticeable gender divide. Twice as many men than women say they never take any painkillers (10% vs. 5%) while three times as many men claim to never get pains than women (3% vs. 1%).

Paracetamol, or acetaminophen as it is known in the U.S. is a widely used over-the-counter pain reliever and fever reducer which is best used when treating symptoms associated with colds and flus, while ibuprofen is better for the treatment of inflammation and aspirin for migraines and pre-existing conditions. Neither ibuprofen nor aspirin are recommended for frequent general use as they can lead to internal bleeding or stomach ulcers.

Paracetamol poisoning 'common'

Common paracetemol is safe when taken at recommended levels; however paracetemol overdose has been revealed as one the most common causes of OTC drug poisoning in Britain and the U.S. over the past few years. Researchers have found a surge of patients overdosing on the drug unintentionally due to its simple accessibility and prevalence in a variety of pain relievers, fever reducers and cough medicines.

Health professionals warn that frequent overdosing on paracetamol can seriously harm the liver or kidneys and lead to chronic health problems. The U.S. Acute Liver Failure Study Group conducted research in 2004 which found that half of reported liver failures in America are from paracetamol poisoning. Follow up studies have also shown that frequent paracetamol users were more prone to suffering hearing loss or becoming asthmatic.

Doctors also warn that too often OTC drugs promote the ridding of fever as the focal point of their use, though fever is the natural response to viral invasions. The higher body temperature makes life difficult for viruses, so too much dependence on painkiller that reduce fever and numb discomfort often allows a virus to spread, causing long lasting symptoms.

Still 'safest option'

Despite the risks of extended use, doctors still consider paracetamol to be the best option for pain relief, with experts like Dr. Marie Savard in the U.S. saying it is still also the safest, as alternatives such as aspirin and ibuprofen have even more safety concerns.

Patients are encouraged to stick to the recommended dosage and be sure to read labels of all medication they are taking.

See the full results and details of our poll here