Are analgesics safe?

Most analgesics are considered safe when taken for short periods of time and exactly as directed on the packaging or by a doctor. Some analgesics, such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen, are considered safer than others.

Narcotic analgesics and narcotic analgesic combinations have been associated with some serious risks such as respiratory depression (unusually slow and shallow breathing), opioid-use disorder, and potentially fatal overdose. They are potentially addictive and should only be used for certain conditions and under strict monitoring.

NSAIDs have also associated with some serious side effects, such as an increase in the risk of fatal heart attack and stroke. Some NSAIDs, such as diclofenac and celecoxib, are more likely to increase this risk than others and NSAIDs should never be used just before or after heart bypass surgery (coronary artery bypass graft, or CABG). Other NSAIDs, such as ketorolac, aspirin and indomethacin, are associated with a higher risk of gastrointestinal side effects. Most NSAIDs are not suitable for children or adolescents under the age of 18 years. Ibuprofen is the only NSAID approved for children aged three months and older.

What are the side effects of analgesics?

All medicines have side effects but how vulnerable a person is to them depends on several different factors such as age, genetics, kidney function and gender (see managing common drug side effects)

Narcotic analgesics have many side effects, although people with cancer or terminal illness taking narcotics for long periods of time may become tolerant to some of these side effects.

Drowsiness, sleepiness, or dizziness is common with most narcotic analgesics. This can affect driving or a person’s ability to operate machinery and perform other hazardous tasks. Alcohol may potentiate these effects. See narcotic analgesics for other commonly reported side effects.

NSAIDs may also cause side effects, especially when used at higher than recommended dosages for long periods of time. Gastrointestinal side effects that may occur include bloating, diarrheaconstipation, irritation of the lining of the stomach, nausea or vomiting. NSAIDs may also affect kidney function and reduce how quickly blood flows through the kidneys. They may cause retention of sodium and water which can lead to edema and high potassium levels. Occasionally, they may cause more serious damage to the kidneys. See NSAIDs for other commonly reported side effects.

Types of Analgesics

Please refer to the drug classes listed below for further information.

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