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New Survey Finds that Chronic Pain Sufferers Overuse Over-the-Counter Medications

February 23, 2016

According to the National Health Institute (NIH), more than 25 million Americans experience chronic pain.

NIH statistics show that the most common types of chronic pain are severe headache or migraine pain, neck pain and facial pain. This is difficult to deal with for most chronic pain sufferers, and to better cope with symptoms most people use over-the-counter medications. However, a new survey from the American Gastroenterological Association indicates that many chronic pain sufferers overuse over-the counter medications.

The survey involved more than 1,000 adults. Forty-three percent of respondents said they knowingly took more than the recommended dose of over-the-counter medications. Of those surveyed, 38 percent also said they didn’t realize that combining at least two nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or at least two acetaminophen pain relievers (Tylenol, for example) increased their risk of serious complications.

The survey also included 251 gastroenterologists. The doctors polled said that many of their patients used over-the-counter medications at a higher dose and for longer than recommended. Unfortunately, this isn’t surprising. When people experience pain for days, weeks, months or even years, they want relief. However, not following the instructions on the medicine label can be risky. Overuse of over-the-counter medications can lead to health complications like liver damage, stomach bleeding, ulcers or an accidental overdose that could be fatal. 

As I mentioned in my last blog post, over-the-counter medications like Tylenol, Aleve, Motrin and Advil are designed to provide temporary relief — not to cure symptoms or an underlying illness. These medications are great for most individuals, but people with chronic pain problems are actually at risk for overuse.

If you take over-the-counter medications, read the warning label on the back of the product and  be very vigilant about sticking to the label's recommended dosage. These labels clearly outline side effects, ranging from skin rash and insomnia to more serious issues like kidney damage and irreversible liver damage. Another important thing to consider is that taking too many over-the-counter medications could mask a more serious illness or only provide symptom relief as an illness gets worse. If you are taking over-the-counter medications and they aren’t working, you need to see a physician to check for a chronic pain problem or to get the right medication to address your health issue. We can give you prescription-strength drugs that provide better treatment or evaluate you to rule out other, more serious health conditions.

Millions of people experience chronic pain every day. Managing symptoms isn’t easy, but it’s critical to take the right medication — and the right dosage. Ignoring the label may not give you the relief you need, but could instead put your health at risk.