Pain is designed to alert you when something is wrong and it is caused by stimulation of special nerve endings in different parts of the body. Most common types of pain are self-limiting and easily treated with over-the-counter analgesics. The following guide will help you chose the most suitable painkiller for your pain.
- Paracetamol is effective against mild to moderate pain. It works through a direct effect on the brain to reduce pain and lower a fever. It does not reduce swelling or stiffness due to inflammation but is still excellent for pain relief associated with arthritis as well as for headache, period pain, colds, influenza.
- Aspirin is effective against mild to moderate pain. It reduces inflammation and swelling and can also bring down a temperature. It is best taken in soluble, effervescent or enteric-coated form to minimise stomach irritation and is helpful for treating pain associated with inflamed joints and sport’s injuries, as well as for headache, migraine, period pains and dental pain. It should not be used by children except under the supervision of a doctor (due to a link with a rare but serious condition known as Reye’s syndrome).
- Ibuprofen is related to aspirin and helps mild to moderate pain, reduces fever and has a powerful effect against the stiffness and swelling of inflammation. It is a popular choice for treating sports injuries (e.g. sprained ligaments, strained muscles) and stiff or painful joints, as well as for painful periods, dental pain, headache and fever. Avoid if it triggers indigestion or a worsening of asthma symptoms
- Codeine works on the nervous system to reduce the transmission of pain signals. It also changes the way pain is felt so that, although it may still be there, it no longer seems to matter. Codeine is used for relief of moderate pain and for boosting the effect of other analgesics such as aspirin, paracetamol or ibuprofen. It damps down cough, but its use is limited by a side effect of constipation. It is best reserved for pain associated with coughing; pain associated with diarrhoea or in combination with paracetamol to boost its painkilling action.
- Dihydrocodeine is a more powerful version of codeine which is suitable for more severe pain, though its use is limited by its potential for addiction. A formulation combining dihydrocodeine with paracetamol is available from pharmacists but is usually reserved for when other pain killers have not worked or are unsuitable.
- Like all drugs, painkillers can have side effects. If you are not sure which analgesic is most likely to suit you, always seek advice from a pharmacist or doctor. Always read the information provided with your painkillers and never exceed the stated dose. If pain persists, or becomes worse, always seek medical advice – both to find out the cause, and to obtain better pain relief.