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Oscar’s track: The health risk of pain relievers

Community Columnist

OTC pain relievers can also adversely affect the health of your kidneys. Many pain relievers should not be used if there is decreased kidney function because they reduce the blood flow to the kidneys. Even in healthy individuals, long term use with higher doses may harm normal kidneys.

Acetaminophen and NSAIDs are found in many over-the-counter medications as well as prescription pain medicine. More than 600 over-the-counter and prescription medicines contain acetaminophen. Some medicines combine acetaminophen with other active ingredients to treat pain, symptoms of colds and flu, allergy symptoms and sleeplessness.

Philippe Berenger, MD, pain management specialist at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation said, “Patients end up compounding these drugs. They’re taking Tylenol without keeping track of how much. Then they take a course of a cold medicine with acetaminophen. Then their doctor prescribes a drug with acetaminophen in it. All of a sudden they’re at toxic doses.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration warns that acetaminophen has a narrow safety margin. This means that there is little difference between the maximum recommended daily dose and a potentially harmful dose. It is important to carefully read the labels on all medications you are taking. OTC medicines list all their active ingredients on the package. Be aware that acetaminophen can appear on a label as “APAP.”

Follow dosing instructions carefully. Read all warnings and cautions. Be especially careful when giving medicines to children.

These warnings underscore that we may be relying too heavily on over-the-counter medications to relieve our aches and pains. I encourage you to consider non-drug approaches to pain relief, such as heat, massage, or electrical stimulation. Add some stretching and exercise to your daily routine.

Many find relief with acupuncture and biofeedback. Others might benefit from meditation and yoga. These approaches may reduce or eliminate your need for pain medications. By reducing your use of pain medications, you’ll ultimately be protecting the health of your liver and kidneys.

For more information, access fda.gov/Drugs/ResourcesForYou/Consumers/BuyingUsingMedicineSafely.

Oscar Soto is a licensed physical therapist and the owner of Back On Track Physical Therapy & Wellness Center. He can be reached at 655-5453 or backontrack@windstream.net.

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