Alternative Names: analgesics, pain drugs

Definition: A pain medication lessens the amount, duration, or sensation of pain.

What is the information for this topic?

There are many different types of medications used to lessen pain.

Some of these work directly on pain receptors in the brain. Others affect pain by decreasing inflammation. Other medications decrease pain by modifying how the central nervous system recognizes it. Some pain medications can be bought without a prescription from a healthcare provider. These are called over-the-counter pain medications. The two most common are acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs. Acetaminophen is commonly found in the brand name Tylenol. It is good for relieving pain and fever. It is fairly easy on the stomach and is safe for children. However, this drug can be toxic to the liver in high doses. NSAIDs, such as aspirin and ibuprofen, are good for reducing fever and inflammation. This includes inflammation from arthritis, muscle injuries, and other conditions.

All NSAIDs may cause side effects. Examples include stomach irritation and bleeding, especially in older people. Kidney problems may also occur with long-term use. Aspirin should not be given to children unless it is specifically ordered by a healthcare provider. Aspirin in children has been linked to Reye’s syndrome, a serious condition that can cause liver and brain damage.

Some pain requires stronger medications, such as prescription NSAIDs or narcotics. Narcotics directly affect the pain receptors in the central nervous system. They require a doctor’s prescription. Narcotics are controlled by the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). This is because narcotics can be addictive and sometimes, abused. People who receive these medication usually have intense pain that requires stronger medicine. Unfortunately, narcotics often don’t work well for arthritis and many back injuries.

Some prescription medications work by changing the way the brain receives pain signals. These include tricyclic antidepressants, such as amitriptyline. These medications are often helpful for people with nerve damage and other types of chronic pain. Seizure medicine, such as gabapentin, may also be useful for chronic pain.

Some people have severe pain that won’t respond to over-the-counter pain medicines. These people should talk to their healthcare provider. Pain can be a sign of a serious problem. If it is not, a healthcare provider can prescribe stronger medicine or suggest a specialist who can help control chronic pain.