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Alternative Names
analgesics, pain drugs, pain medications

Analgesics lessens the amount, duration, or sensation of pain.

What is the information for this topic?
There are many different types of medications used to lessen pain. Some of these work directly on pain receptors in the brain. Others affect pain by decreasing inflammation. Other medications decrease pain by modifying how the central nervous system recognises it.

Some analgesics can be bought without a prescription from a doctor. These are called over-the-counter analgesics. The two most common are paracetamol and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs. Paracetamol is commonly found in the brand name Panadol. It is good for relieving pain and fever. It is fairly easy on the stomach and is safe for children. However, this drug can be toxic to the liver in high doses. NSAIDs, such as aspirin and ibuprofen, are good for reducing fever and inflammation. This includes inflammation from arthritis, muscle injuries, and other conditions.

All NSAIDs may cause side effects. Examples include stomach irritation and bleeding, especially in older people. Kidney problems may also occur with long-term use. Aspirin should not be given to children unless it is specifically ordered by a doctor. Aspirin in children has been linked to Reye's syndrome, a serious condition that can cause liver and brain damage.

Some pain requires stronger medications, such as prescription NSAIDs or narcotics. Narcotics directly affect the pain receptors in the central nervous system. They require a doctor's prescription. Narcotics are controlled by the relevant State Health Authorities. This is because narcotics can be addictive and sometimes, abused. People who receive these medication usually have intense pain that requires stronger medication. Unfortunately, narcotics often don't work well for arthritis and many back injuries.

Some prescription medications work by changing the way the brain receives pain signals. These include tricyclic antidepressants, such as amitriptyline. These medications are often helpful for people with nerve damage and other types of chronic pain. Seizure medication, such as valproate or carbamazepine may also be useful for chronic pain.

Some people have severe pain that won't respond to over-the-counter pain medications. These people should talk to their doctor. Pain can be a sign of a serious problem. If it is not, a doctor can prescribe stronger medication or suggest a specialist who can help control chronic pain.

Author: James Broomfield, MD
Reviewer: HealthAnswers Australia Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr David Taylor, Chief Medical Officer HealthAnswers Australia
Last Updated: 1/10/2001
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

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