An estimated one in five Australians are living with chronic pain and during National Pain Week this week, NPS MedicineWise clinical advisor Dr Andrew Boyden says there is concern not all those are using pain relieving medicines safely.
“All pain relieving medicines, including non-prescription varieties, have possible risks as well as benefits,” says Dr Boyden.
“Unwanted effects can occur if you take a larger dose of a pain reliever than needed, if it interacts with another medicine you are taking, or is used by people with certain health conditions. “We’ve seen some recent research from the University of Sydney showing that a significant number of older Australians are taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) on a regular basis, and many are using them for longer than is recommended and without taking precautions to minimise harmful side-effects.
“The NSAIDs group of medicines includes ibuprofen and diclofenac. Many of these are readily available in pharmacies as well as in supermarkets and convenience stores.
“It’s worrying to think people might be taking them for longer than the guidelines recommend. Consumers should be aware — and health professionals should be reminded — that generally NSAIDs should be used at the lowest possible dose for the shortest possible duration. Longer term use should only be undertaken after carefully considering the risks and benefits on an individual basis.”
Research from the University of Wollongong presented at the National Medicines Symposium earlier this year also highlighted the dangers of people taking common pain relieving medicines such as NSAIDs without thinking about the potential risks or harms.
Out of 263 people surveyed about over-the-counter NSAIDs containing the active ingredient ibuprofen, more than 1 in 5 respondents (22%) thought that these medicines cause no possible side effects, which of course is not true for any medicine.
“It’s important for people to be medicinewise with their pain relievers — always ask your doctor if the treatment is necessary, about possible side effects, for how long you can safely take the medication. Also, confirm the correct dosage and ensure you understand directions on how to take the medicine,” says Dr Boyden.
Anyone with questions or concerns about their pain relief medicine should check with their doctor or pharmacist about which pain reliever is safest for them.
“When you seek medical advice, make sure you tell your pharmacist or doctor about any of your other prescription and over-the-counter medicines, including any other pain relievers you may be taking as well as any complementary medicines such as herbal preparations, as these are medicines too and so have risks and benefits like any other medicine,” he says.
NPS MedicineWise has information on its website about different pain conditions, pain medicines and non-medicine treatments for acute and chronic pain, and how to manage pain: www.nps.org.au/pain.
People can also call Medicines Line on 1300 MEDICINE (1300 633 424) for information about their medicines from anywhere in Australia for the cost of a local phone call (excluding mobiles; Monday – Friday, 9am – 5pm EST).
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