Pain-Relief Medicine At-A-Glance

This chart describes common types of pain relief medicines, general safety concerns, and tips for taking them safely. Remember: all medicines (OTC and prescription medicines) can cause side effects and all medicines should be taken as directed. Help teens understand the benefits and the risks of pain relief medicines and how to use them correctly.

Pain Relief Medicines Commonly Used to . . . Potential Safety Concerns Play it Safe
Acetaminophen available in prescription form and as an OTC medicine; this common pain relief medicine is an ingredient in more than 600 medicines, including cough suppressants, cold and allergy medicines, and some sleep aids. Relieve headache, muscle ache, and pain from sinus pressure; reduce fever; promote sleep. Serious liver damage if taken in larger amounts than directed; Risk for liver damage may be increased in people who drink three or more alcoholic beverages a day while using medicines with acetaminophen. Do not combine multiple acetaminophen-containing medicines. Ask a healthcare professional or pharmacist if you are unsure about whether you are taking too much.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) include ibuprofen, aspirin and naproxen; available in prescription form and as an OTC medicine. Reduce swelling by inhibiting certain chemicals from forming in your body that can make pain symptoms worse. Stomach or gastrointestinal bleeding from long-term use is higher for older people than for younger people. Additional concerns include indigestion, stomach ulcers, easy bruising and heart problems. If you have a history of kidney or heart problems, check with your healthcare professional before taking an NSAID.
Opioid medicines (morphine; oxycodone; and codeine); available by prescription only. Treat moderate-to-severe pain. Not intended for use on an as-needed basis. Drowsiness; constipation; weakness; loss of appetite; vomiting; sweating; fatigue; may alter judgment and levels of consciousness, including coma; tolerance may develop. May cause respiratory depression; and aggravate convulsions in people with convulsive disorders; should be used with extreme caution in elderly and debilitated individuals. Risk for addiction is small when taken as directed; dosages vary widely—what is safe for one person may be high enough to cause an overdose in someone else.