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How Do You Know Which Pain Relievers Are Safest for You?

For the millions of people who suffer from arthritis and other chronic conditions that cause constant pain or soreness, it seems like whatever over-the-counter pain reliever we choose comes with potential dangers. Just recently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration strengthened its warnings on nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and their link to strokes and heart attacks. NSAIDs include popular over-the-counter pain relievers like Aleve and Advil as well as prescription medications known as COX-2 inhibitors that are taken for arthritis.

The potential risks of NSAIDs to the heart have been noted before. They've also been linked to gastrointestinal bleeding, ulcers, kidney problems and increased blood pressure. All of these risks can increase if someone takes them over a long period of time or uses more than the recommended dosage. However, many people still choose them over other pain relievers because they have the added benefit of reducing inflammation.

Unlike NSAIDs, the pain reliever acetaminophen has not been linked to heart disease. Acetaminophen is the generic name for popular medications including Tylenol, and is found in a number of OTC headache and cold medicines. However, it has been linked to liver damage.

The potential risks of any medications need to be weighed against their benefits. Further, going off of NSAIDs completely after taking them regularly can cause its own issues, such as blood clots. Since each person is unique, it's best to consult with your physician to determine whether NSAIDS, acetaminophen and other pain relievers are safe given your medical history and current medical conditions.

Drug manufacturers place these warnings on their medications and bombard us with a litany of frightening and even lethal potential side effects during many drug commercials in part because failure to do so can present serious legal issues. If you or a loved one has suffered harm that you believe was caused by a medication, however, it may still be worthwhile to notify the manufacturer and/or the FDA and to explore your legal options.

Source: Harvard Health Publications, "12 things you should know about common pain relievers," accessed July 27, 2015

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