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What is the right painkiller for me?

For different types of pain, there are different medications available that come in a variety of formulations and strengths. Painkillers can be administered orally in the forms of pills, effervescent (water-soluble) tablets and syrup, or intravenously (injection) in hospitals.

Here, we’ll break down some common pain relief treatments to help you decide which painkiller you should treat for the kind of pain you might experience.

Paracetamol

Paracetamol is the go-to option for most people. Paracetamol can be bought over the counter from pharmacies, supermarkets and even some corner shops.

Despite insurmountable research into the drug, we are still unsure as to the specific mechanism which makes paracetamol work as an effective pain reliever, though the consensus is that it inhibits pain signals travelling from the source of the pain to the brain.

Paracetamol is effective at treating:

  • Headaches
  • Toothache
  • Injuries
  • Period pain

Paracetamol is available in a vast array of formulations and strengths. It can be taken orally as pills, effervescent tablets, syrups or hot drink sachets. In hospitals, paracetamol can be administered intravenously.

Paracetamol is an extremely versatile pain relief medication and, as you’ll find out, is often combined with other pain relief medication to increase the efficacy.

Ibuprofen (anti-inflammatory)

Another widely used remedy of pain; Ibuprofen is a painkiller with anti-inflammatory (reduces swelling) properties that is often used for arthritis, sport injuries and other pain inflictions where the site of pain becomes inflamed.

Ibuprofen works by blocking prostaglandins - a chemical which causes pain and inflammation at the site of pain, as well as raising body temperature (fever).

You may find some anti-inflammatory treatments may be combined with caffeine to increase the speed of the pain relieving properties. They are readily available over-the-counter from chemists, but higher strengths can be prescribed if required.

Ibuprofen is effective at treating:

  • Arthritis
  • Sprains
  • Backache
  • Joint pain

Ibuprofen (and other anti-inflammatories) typically comes in the form of tablets which you swallow with a glass of water or milk. Ibuprofen can be taken with paracetamol in a staggered dose to reduce the pain symptoms if required.

Ibuprofen, as well as other anti-inflammatory treatments, is effective at treating mild to moderate joint pain, but can be used for a whole host of maladies.

Codeine

Codeine is an opiate (derived from the poppy plant) that is effective against moderate to severe pain. Much like Ibuprofen, Codeine is available over-the-counter in low strengths, such as in Nurofen Plus. Higher strengths are available on prescription due to the addictive nature of this medication.

The primary mechanism of the opiate Codeine is that is metabolised into morphine inside the body. It acts as an endorphin in the brain, changing the way the brain processes pain signals. When combined with paracetamol, it can be a highly effective painkiller for post-operative pain.

Codeine is often used for:

  • Post operative pain
  • Arthritis
  • Sciatica
  • Nerve damage
  • Sports injuries

Codeine is typically administered orally as pills, effervescent tablets or in a pink/purple syrup. Both over-the-counter and prescription Codeine medicine can be formulated with paracetamol to improve the efficacy of the drug. However, take extreme caution when taking other medicines which contain paracetamol - accidental overdose of paracetamol can severely damage your stomach and liver.

Codeine is one of the strongest painkillers you can buy both over-the-counter and on prescription. It is also addictive and must be taken under the supervision of a healthcare professional.

Conclusion

Unless you are allergic, paracetamol is a tried and true pain relief medication that can treat most minor pains. However, if your pain is more severe or part of injury, underlying medical condition or surgery, speak to your doctor about prescription anti-inflammatory and Codeine based treatments.

Never consume alcohol with painkillers. For women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, always consult your obstetrician (antenatal care) before taking pain relief medication. Always read the patient information leaflet before taking any medication to mitigate the risk of side effects. Never consume more medicine than is prescribed. If you accidentally take more painkiller than prescribed, contact a medical professional immediately.

For migraines and cluster headaches, there are specific treatments to relieve these kinds of pain.