Indiscriminate use of painkillers can pose serious health risks

K.V. Kurmanath Hyderabad | Updated on November 24, 2011


A young techie in Hyderabad came home the other day with terrible back pain. Instead of going to the hospital, he asked his roommate to get him a pain killer. His friend rushed to the nearest pharmacy and bought a painkiller over the counter (OTC).

Moments after taking the pill, the techie developed symptoms of vomiting and loose bowels and died hours later. A journalist too succumbed to pain killer-induced side-effects recently.

We all know that pain killers sell like potato chips over the counter and that most pharmacists double as doctors in India.

Though we read reports of such events in local pages of newspapers, we hardly care to go a bit deeper to understand the problem.

The takeaway from this episode is — do not substitute your pharmacist for a doctor and do not take a pain killer without doctor’s advice.

Side effects could range from skin rashes to ulcerisation. For people who already have ulcers, liver, cardiac and kidney problems, even one pain killer can cause serious risks. Some even cause death if not attended to in time, Dr D. Nageshwar Reddy, Chairman and Chief of Gastroenterology at Asian Institute of Gastroenterology, told Business Line.

General pain killers or Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) should be taken along with proton-pump inhibitors (PPIs) to check acidity. “But those who are using OTC pain killers do not take these anti-acidic agents, exposing themselves to risks,” he says.

AIG receives 15-20 patients with extreme cases of bleeding associated with pain killers every month.

Dr M. Goverdhan, Senior physician at CARE Hospitals, feels that indiscriminate use of pain killers could have both short-term and long term impacts.

“All drugs will have some side effects. But a doctor gives you protection. It is the responsibility of a patient to check whether a particular drug causes any side effects. If their condition weakens after medication, they should immediately call the doctor without waiting for next scheduled appointment,” he cautions.

Dr Govardhan points out that pain could be treated as a signal for an underlying problem that needs to be addressed first to get rid of the pain.

Those under medication for some other problem such as high blood pressure should be more wary because pain killers could lead to drug-drug interaction and could pose serious health risks.

Published on November 24, 2011

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