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Warnings over regular painkiller use

15th February 2011

Health experts are warning that taking painkillers should not turn into a part of people's daily lifestyle.

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Many people keep packs of paracetamol, ibuprofen or aspirin in their cars, medicine cabinets or handbags, in case they are hit by aches and pains.

Research firm Mintel found recently that more than 80% of Americans use either acetaminophen, aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen.

The four major over-the-counter analgesics are a common feature of most people's lives, but few are aware of the potential health risks.

While experts say analgesics can help with acute aches and pains, they warn that overdosing is too easy, and can result in stomach problems, organ failure, strokes and even death.

What's more, body size, genes and existing health conditions may affect safe upper limits, which vary from person to person.

New evidence has found that, for athletes and people with migraines, taking the wrong painkillers at the wrong time can make pain worse.

Experts are warning everyone to think twice before taking painkillers.

However, there is also growing evidence to suggest that some painkillers may also help fight Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease, as well as heart attacks and some cancers.

Chicago pharmacist Janet Engle warned that around half of patients do not follow directions when taking painkillers, sparking potential health problems.

However, the main analgesics worked better than sugar pill placebos in recent trials.

Arthritis patients have been showed to experience a significant reduction in pain with ibuprofen or naproxen, compared with a control group receiving placebos.

Sometimes, they work as well as stronger anti-inflammatory medicines like Cox-2 inhibitors.

As no comparisons of the different analgesics have been published, people may find that one pill works better for them than another.

A 1991 study found that patients randomly assigned to half-doses of ibuprofen reported the same improvement in pain as those who took the full, prescription only dose.

The results fly in the fact of what many people do: increase the dose when the pain gets very bad.

Aspirin at low levels has been prescribed for years to patients at high risk of heart disease.

The drug inhibits enzymes that make platelets in the blood clump and stick together, reducing the risk of clotting.

A December study in the journal The Lancet found that daily aspirin may also help prevent certain types of cancer.

After 20 years, risks were between 30% and 60% lower for a range of cancers, including lung, colorectal and oesophageal.

Meanwhile, the daily use of ibuprofen has been linked to a lowered risk of Parkinson's disease and a more than 40% reduced risk of developing Alzheimer's over a five-year period.

But health experts warned against self-medication for long periods with over-the-counter painkillers.

Patients should discuss their concerns with a doctor, they said.

 

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