Using Over-the-Counter Analgesics Safely: What Patients Don't but Should Know

Charles P. Vega, MD


May 04, 2017

Ensuring Patient Safety

Practitioners know that OTC analgesics are ubiquitous. It is critical that we assess their use when performing a medication reconciliation.

I consider the following safety factors when recommending an OTC pain reliever to my patients.

  • Age: Patients over the age of 60 are at an increased risk for gastrointestinal bleeding with NSAIDS.

  • Coexisting medical conditions: Patients with gastritis or stomach ulcers, renal abnormalities, cardiovascular risks, liver disease or cirrhosis, hypertension, or asthma have increased health risks with both NSAIDs and acetaminophen.

  • Concomitant medicines: Patients who take anticoagulants/antiplatelet medications,[7,8] corticosteroids, certain antihypertensive agents,[9] or aspirin face increased risks when also taking NSAIDs. This also applies to patients who are taking other medications containing the same analgesic components.

In addition, I remind my patients to always read and follow the drug facts label each time they reach for any OTC medication.

We all appreciate that OTC analgesics play an important role in improving patients' well-being. They are generally safe and effective when used as directed. With enhanced patient communication and education around OTC pain relievers, healthcare professionals can make well-informed decisions about their patients' treatment plan and help their patients make informed choices.


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