It's well-known that prescription painkillers like opioids can lead to addiction and devastating health consequences. But it might be easy to overlook that over-the-counter painkillers aren't meant to be taken every day for longer than a few weeks, unless directed by your doctor. That's because medications like aspirin, ibuprofen and acetaminophen—as familiar as they are from TV commercials and mom's medicine cabinet—are still strong medicines that can affect the body in unintended ways beyond relieving pain or inflammation. Here's what taking common painkillers every day can do to your body. If you have questions or concerns, call your doctor. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You May Have Already Had COVID.
They May Increase Bleeding Risk
The U.S. Protective Task Force recently warned against daily aspirin therapy for people who haven't had a heart attack, saying that taking daily aspirin increases the risk of serious bleeding, including in the stomach, intestines, and brain. (That risk already increases with age.) Other NSAIDs like ibuprofen also thin the blood and can increase bleeding risk.
They Can Cause Stomach Problems
Aspirin and other NSAIDs can wear away the protective lining of the stomach, exposing it to natural digestive acids. That can lead to gastritis (inflammation of the stomach) or a more serious condition, like a gastric ulcer or perforation, or stomach bleeding that can be life-threatening. The risk increases in people who are older, have stomach ulcers, take blood thinners or drink alcohol.
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They May Increase Risk For Heart Attack Or Stroke
NSAIDs are accompanied a black box warning that their use may increase the risk of heart attacks or stroke. You should use the lowest dose necessary to relieve their pain, and stop taking NSAIDs as soon as possible.
However, abruptly stopping daily aspirin therapy can also increase risk of a heart attack. "If you have had a heart attack or a stent placed in one or more of your heart arteries, stopping daily aspirin therapy can lead to a life-threatening heart attack," says the Mayo Clinic. "If you have been taking daily aspirin therapy and want to stop, it's important to talk to your doctor before making any changes."
They May Cause Headaches
Do you frequently use painkillers to treat headaches? Discontinuing them abruptly can cause rebound headaches. Always consult your doctor before stopping or starting a medication regimen.
They Can Alter Other Medication You're Taking
NSAIDs like ibuprofen can interact with over-the-counter supplements and prescription medications, causing the active amount to increase or decrease. This can lead to adverse effects or not getting the desired effect from the medication. Always tell your doctor about any other medications or supplements you're taking along with painkillers; they'll let you know if any need to be discontinued.
They Might Cause Liver and Kidney Damage
Chronic use of painkillers can harm two of the organs responsible for metabolizing what your body takes in—the liver and kidneys. Taking acetaminophen (brand name Tylenol) with alcohol can lead to serious liver damage or failure. For some people, the damage can be irreversible, leading to cirrhosis of the liver or kidney failure that requires long-term dialysis. Always follow directions for dosage and frequency, and be careful not to exceed them; if you're advised to avoid alcohol, don't ignore that. Tell your healthcare provider if you believe you need to take an over-the-counter or prescribed painkiller longer than directed. And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.