Are Your Pain Medications Making You Worse?
When you are in pain, especially when your pain lasts for days without end, medication often seems like the quickest path to relief. And you’re not alone.
Millions of people use over-the-counter and prescription drugs every day, according to the FDA. But could your pain meds be making your pain and your health worse?
The answer in some cases is yes. Even if you use them correctly — and they are easy to misuse — your pain medications might be making you worse.
If you’ve been prescribed addictive narcotics for chronic pain, or you’ve been taking your pain medications to reduce or relieve headaches, sore muscles, arthritis, or other aches and pains longer than a couple of weeks, you should be worried about the negative effects of these meds. Below, we’ll discuss why.
And if you’ve only been taking OTC (over-the-counter) drugs, you may also be at-risk for serious — even life-threatening — side effects.
That’s why, at The Pain Management Center, we believe in specialized treatment that doesn’t turn to painkillers as a first option.
Our trained doctors believe pain medications and surgery are not the only options for treating patients in pain.
Our conservative approach has worked for many of our patients in the past, and it might work for you.
Only after we try other methods, do we suggest non-invasive surgery or pain medications as the right course of action to help people find relief and be able to live their lives to the fullest.
Key Takeaway: Our New Jersey pain care centers practice specialized pain management and prevention that does not rely on medication as a first option.
The problem with the American medical care system:
Most doctors today focus on providing relief of symptoms rather than preventing or treating the underlying cause of the problem.
Nearly 7 out of 10 Americans were prescribed at least one drug in 2009, and half were given two or more, according to research from the Mayo Clinic.
Of course, most doctors don’t mean to cause people further pain and issues. But most doctors don’t have adequate education and training about pain medications. Or doctors treating patients for pain may not provide patients with enough information to safely take the drugs on their own.
Many patients falsely believe that pain medications not only reduce pain but also promote healing. But this is simply not true.
In our world today, it is very easy to get pain medications — and in high doses, too. This is quickly becoming a huge problem in our society. For example, the rate of prescription overdoses in NYC has reached epidemic levels.
At The Pain Management Center, our doctors are armed with the right information so they can work together to do their best to find the root cause of each patient who chooses one of our PA or NJ pain care centers to help minimize and alleviate acute and chronic pain.
Because, if you think about it, taking a narcotic for pain without treating the root cause is like taking a pill for a toothache without fixing the tooth. The pain might be lessened, but the problem is not going to go away without proper care.
Key Takeaway: The American medical system often only treats symptoms rather than the true cause of the problem. Pain medications are easy to get, but they may not be right for every situation and are easily abused and misused.
For people in chronic pain, painkillers are not the best option.
The negative effects of painkillers decrease natural healing and lead to more deterioration and pain.
Taking opioids for chronic, non-cancer pain increases your risk of death by 72 percent, according to a study in the journal Pain.
And another study shows that overdoses from prescription opioids, such as Vicodin, account for nearly 70 percent of all emergency room visits.
“Opioids are essentially legal heroin,” says Lewis Nelson, who served on an FDA panel to revise the Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy associated with prescription drugs.
Most patients who are prescribed narcotics go from moderate levels of pain to severe pain soon after they begin taking their meds. The localized pain then becomes diffused to other parts of the body after a few months of use.
To put it simply, narcotics put the body in a state of breakdown. This doesn’t sound good, and it’s not.
Key Takeaway: When used too much or incorrectly, pain medications have many adverse effects.
Pain medications suppress the immune system.
Short-term and long-term use of pain-killing opioid drugs, such as hydrocodone, oxycodone, fentanyl, codeine, and morphine, block the immune system’s ability to attack viral and bacterial invaders.
Opiates, especially morphine and heroin, are known to affect immune system function, as well as the neurological system.
Not only that, but opiates are highly addictive and easy to abuse. Chronic opiate abuse can even permanently damage the nervous system.
Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is hard on the liver, the body’s main detox organ. A compromised liver cannot effectively remove toxins, putting the body at increased risk of illness and disease.
All steroid drugs suppress the immune system, as well.
If complete healing is to happen, the use of narcotics and other chronic pain medication must be stopped.
Key Takeaway: Pain medications suppress the immune system and don’t allow the body to heal itself.
Pain medications can cause damage to the gastrointestinal system.
A study published in the American Gastroenterological Association Journal shows that chronic users of NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) have an increased risk of bleeding and visible damage to their small intestines.
One in three people taking NSAIDs regularly suffer from digestive side effects.
And now, ordinary doses of products that contain acetaminophen (Tylenol) are linked to liver damage.
Acetaminophen overdose (either intentional or unintentional) is the most common cause of acute liver failure in the United States.
Key Takeaway: Some pain medications have been shown to cause damage to the stomach and the intestines.
Narcotic painkillers are linked to a higher risk for depression.
High doses of powerful narcotic painkillers appear to be linked to a higher risk of depression in patients, according to new research published in the journal Pain.
The study focused on a class of prescription narcotic painkillers called opioids, which include drugs such as oxycontin and vicodin.
The researchers concluded that most of the risk of depression is driven by the duration of use and not the dose. As people use the drugs for longer periods of time, they have to use higher doses to get the same effects.
Key Takeaway: Regular and increased use of narcotics is linked to depression.
Painkillers are linked to cardiovascular risks.
Drugs that include NSAIDs, as well as anti-inflammatory drugs (COX-2 inhibitors), have been linked to cardiovascular risks.
Researchers at The University of Bern in Switzerland revealed that NSAIDs lead to a two to fourfold increase in the risk of heart attacks, stroke, or cardiovascular death.
Key Takeaway: Taking pain medications may put your heart at risk.
Over-the-counter medications have many other adverse effects.
More than 20 NSAIDs and more than 100 NSAID-containing products exist. Some common ones include aspirin, Motrin®, Advil®, and Celebrex®. Thirteen million Americans take these drugs regularly.
Every year, side effects of NSAIDs cause more than 100,000 hospitalizations and more than 16,000 deaths, according to Consumer Reports. This means more people die each year from NSAID-related complications than from AIDS and cervical cancer in the United States.
Acetaminophen is not an anti-inflammatory, and it eases pain in a different way than NSAIDs, but it has problems, as well.
Acetaminophen can damage the liver, especially if drinking alcohol while taking this type of drug.
Key Takeaway: Even over-the-counter medications have multiple risks associated with regular use.
Some other health issues linked to pain medications:
- Pain medications expose women to unique risks, including endocrinopathy, reduced fertility, neonatal risks, as well as a greater risk for cardiac problems, poisoning, and unintentional overdose.
- Pain medications are linked to erectile dysfunction in men.
- Regular use of an NSAID has been linked to an increase of heart disease.
- NSAIDs can be hard on the kidneys and even cause kidney failure.
- Long-term use of ibuprofen may damage your joints.
- OTC pills have side effects including kidney damage, stomach bleeding, ulcers, and an increased risk of heart attack.
Pain medications can make headaches worse.
Taking pain meds for headaches may be okay for a day or two, but taking them for any longer can have unexpected and serious consequences.
Overusing painkillers (whether OTC or prescription) can cause more headaches (called rebound headaches) that return as soon as the medication wears off — often prompting people to take more medicine and to continue the cycle of pain.
The only way to stop the cycle is to stop taking the medication. But doing so isn’t easy. You will suffer some type of withdrawal, such as nausea and extreme fatigue. Full recovery can take months and works best with the consultation of a trained and experienced doctor.
Another major issue of opioid drugs is, the more you take, the more it can increase your sensitivity to pain, so you may not get the relief you need.
Key Takeaway: Taking pain medications for headaches, including migraines, can lead to rebound headaches or the need to use more medicine to find relief.
Chronic pain may be a manifestation of depression, anxiety, trauma, or other emotional issues.
For some people, chronic pain is a reflection of an underlying issue. This is something Dr. Michael Baron, a triple board-certified psychiatrist, believes. His patient’s scores consistently decreased when they went off their painkillers.
“When we manage pain with opioid medications, the person feels better temporarily, but, over time, dependence can set in and both the pain and the underlying depression get worse,” Dr. Baron says. “Only when patients stop taking opiates and receive appropriate treatment for the underlying emotional issues can they truly recover.”
Key Takeaway: Chronic pain may be a reflection of an underlying emotional issue. So, without treating the true problem, the pain will likely not be eliminated.
Our doctors understand that your medications might be making you worse in some cases.
Our doctors at The Pain Management Center do not believe that pain medications alone are the proper way to manage and treat pain.
We DO prescribe pain medications on a long-term basis in some cases when other things have failed. This requires close monitoring and regular follow up, as well as attempting to decrease the medications to the lowest level needed to help with pain. Pain medications can sometimes also help institute treatments that would not otherwise be tolerated.
Instead of choosing medication as a first option, our doctors at our New Jersey pain care clinics use a multidisciplinary, holistic, and minimally-invasive approach to pain management.
If you have been taking pain medications regularly, call us today to schedule a consultation with our experienced doctors.
You don’t have to live with your pain, and you don’t have to take pain medications for life! We can help you find a better solution.