Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and naproxen are mild pain relievers that are commonly used to treat pain caused by muscle sprains, back injuries, and menstrual cramps.
Learn about mild vs. strong pain relievers and what to keep in mind when taking them.
What are pain relievers?
Pain relievers, also known as painkillers or pain medications, ease discomfort caused by injury, illness, chronic health conditions, or surgery.
Pain relievers are sold under a variety of brand names and can usually be taken as a pill or tablet, as an injection, or as a suppository. Painkillers are also available in the form of ointments, patches, and creams.
What are NSAIDs?
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) work by lowering the production of prostaglandins, which are chemicals that irritate nerve endings and cause pain and inflammation. These pain relievers inhibit the effect of cyclo-oxygenase (COX) enzymes, which are responsible for producing prostaglandins.
NSAIDs are often prescribed for people with muscle and joint pain caused by arthritis. Acetaminophen is often prescribed to treat mild to moderate aches. However, an overdose of acetaminophen can lead to liver damage and even death in some cases.
Some of the potential side effects associated with the use of NSAIDs include:
People with stomach ulcers should avoid using NSAIDs for pain relief.
What are strong pain relievers?
Opioids are strong painkillers and include codeine, fentanyl, morphine, and hydrocodone.
Opioids work by binding to the central nervous system and changing your perception of pain, reducing pain sensations and increasing your tolerance for pain. These drugs may be prescribed for severe injuries, surgery, or cancer.
Side effects of opioids include:
- Dry mouth
- Interaction with other medications
- Dependency and addiction
Opioids are generally prescribed only as a last resort because they can be addictive.
What precautions should you take when it comes to pain medications?
Painkillers should be taken only as prescribed by your medical advisor.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and opioids can damage your liver and other organs. Prolonged use of painkillers also increases the risk of heart attacks, high blood pressure, and other health complications. Taking painkillers such as NSAIDs and opioids during early pregnancy can increase the risk of birth defects.
If you develop allergic reactions or observe symptoms such as blurred vision, urinary tract infections, difficulty breathing, slurred speech, numbness, paralysis, or severe gastrointestinal distress, seek medical assistance immediately.
Children and people with a history of chronic conditions should consult their doctors before changing or trying a new pain medication.
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
Top What Is a Mild Pain Reliever Related Articles
acetaminophenAcetaminophen is a drug that reduces fever and relieves pain. It is available alone, or in combination with hundreds of other drugs available both over-the-counter (without a prescription) or that that may require a prescription from your doctor, for example, acetaminophen and hydrocodone (Vicodin, Norco) or acetaminophen and oxycodone (Percocet). Acetaminophen treats a variety of diseases or other medical problems that cause pain or fever. Examples of conditions acetaminophen treats include headache, minor arthritis pain, back pain, tooth pain, menstrual cramps, PMS, osteoarthritis, common cold, tension headache, chronic pain, hip pain, shoulder and neck pain, sore throat, sinus infection, teething, TMJ, bites and stings, and sprains and strains. Acetaminophen generally has no side effects when taken as prescribed. When side effects are experienced, the most common are headache, rash, and nausea.
OTC Pain Relievers and Fever ReducersOver-the-counter pain medication and fever reducers include aspirin, acetaminophen and nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Side effects, drug interactions, warnings and precautions, pregnancy and breastfeeding safety, and patient information should be reviewed prior to taking any medication.
Are Any Opioids Safe?Although opioids can be safe when taken as prescribed, long-term opioid use carries significant risks. Learn more about how opioids work and how to use them safely.
Should You Avoid Pain Relievers Before Getting the COVID-19 Vaccine?Both the CDC and WHO do not recommend taking pain relievers before getting the COVID-19 vaccine, as it is still unknown whether they interfere with vaccine effectiveness.
buprenorphineBuprenorphine is an opioid medication used to treat moderate-to-severe pain that doesn’t respond to other pain management therapies, and to treat opioid dependence and withdrawal symptoms while weaning off opioids. Common side effects of buprenorphine include headache, pain, withdrawal syndrome, insomnia, infection, weakness (asthenia), back pain, sweating, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, constipation, diarrhea, chills, nasal inflammation (rhinitis), flu syndrome, runny eyes, dizziness, vertigo, and nervousness. Buprenorphine has a high potential for addiction, abuse, and misuse, and can lead to overdose and death.
capsaicin topicalCapsaicin topical is a pain-relieving (analgesic) medication available as over-the-counter (OTC) as topical creams, gels, and liquids used for the temporary relief of minor joint and muscle pains due to muscle strains, sprains, or cramps, bruises, arthritis, and backache. Capsaicin is also used off-label to relieve nerve pain (neuralgia) caused by certain nerve conditions (neuropathies). Common side effects of capsaicin topical include redness, pain, transient increased pain at the application site, raised bumps in the skin (papules), itching (pruritus), nausea, vomiting, swelling (edema), dryness, high blood pressure (hypertension), bronchial inflammation (bronchitis), sinus inflammation (sinusitis), skin odor, skin peeling (exfoliation), headache, dizziness, taste perversion (dysgeusia), and cough.
codeine (for Pain)Codeine is a narcotic pain reliever (analgesic) used to treat mild to moderately severe pain. It is frequently combined with Tylenol or aspirin for more effective pain relief. Common side effects include itching, rash, stomach pain, constipation, shortness of breath, nausea, lightheadedness, and dizziness. More serious adverse effects codeine are severe low blood pressure and adrenal insufficiency. Codeine is a controlled narcotic and it has the potential for abuse. Dependence and addiction can occur with codeine, even at prescribed dosages when taken over long periods.
How Do You Relieve Pain In The Back Of Your Knee?Learn what medical treatments can help relieve pain in the back of your knee and help you manage pain in the back of your knee.
hydrocodone (Zohydro ER)Hydrocodone is a narcotic pain reliever prescribed for the relief moderate to severe pain. Common side effects include vomiting, nausea, dizziness, and lightheadednes. Consult your doctor if pregnant or breastfeeding.
meperidineMeperidine is a synthetic opioid medication used for the management of acute pain severe enough to require an opioid pain reliever (analgesic) and for which alternative treatments are inadequate. Common side effects of meperidine include lightheadedness, dizziness, sedation, sweating, flushing of the face, low blood pressure (hypotension), palpitations, chest pain (angina), and others. Meperidine has a high potential for addiction, abuse, and misuse and can lead to overdose. Physical tolerance and dependence can also develop with chronic opioid use and cause withdrawal symptoms upon discontinuation of the drug. Consult your doctor if pregnant.
metaxaloneMetaxalone is a medication that relaxes the skeletal muscles and is approved by the FDA for use as an adjunct to rest, physical therapy, and other measures to relieve discomfort from painful musculoskeletal conditions. Common side effects of metaxalone include nausea, vomiting, gastrointestinal distress, irritability, nervousness, headache, drowsiness (somnolence), dizziness, and others. Consult your doctor if pregnant or breastfeeding.
Opioid Dependence QuizWhat are opioids? Take this quiz to learn about opioids (opiates, narcotic pain killers) as well as addiction and dependence that has now become an epidemic.
PercocetPercocet is a drug prescribed for the relief of moderate to moderately-severe pain. Common side effects may include vomiting, nausea, lightheadedness, sleepiness, and dizziness. Oxycodone can be habit-forming. Withdrawal symptoms and side effects may occur in newborn babies of mothers who take Percocet during pregnancy or while breastfeeding.
oxymorphoneOxymorphone is a semisynthetic opioid pain reliever (analgesic) used as a substitute for morphine. The extended-release formulation was intended for the management of chronic severe pain that requires daily, long-term opioid treatment, but has been withdrawn from the market at the request of the FDA because of the significant risk for abuse and misuse. Common side effects of oxymorphone include nausea, vomiting, high body temperature (pyrexia), drowsiness (somnolence), itching (pruritus), dizziness, headache, sedation, confusion, anxiety, increased sweating, rapid heart rate (tachycardia), and others. Oxymorphone can cause serious, life-threatening, or fatal respiratory depression, monitor patients carefully, especially during initiation and dose increase.
Pain ManagementPain management and treatment can be simple or complex, according to its cause. There are two basic types of pain, nociceptive pain and neuropathic pain. Some causes of neuropathic pain include:
- complex regional pain syndrome,
- interstitial cystitis,
- and irritable bowel syndrome.
Pain QuizIs pain all in the brain? Take the Pain Quiz to learn everything you've ever wanted to know about the unpleasant sensation we call pain.
What Is the Recommended Pain Reliever for COVID-19?Acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve) can all be used for pain relief from COVID-19 body aches if they are taken in the recommended doses.
15 Ways to Reduce PainChronic pain can be a symptom of many conditions, including arthritis, headaches, and others. Comprehensive chronic pain management therapy may include physical therapy, lifestyle strategies such as exercise, diet changes, meditation, journaling, medications, and avoiding alcohol and tobacco use. Make helpful changes to manage your chronic condition.