General Aches and Pains: What Seniors Should Know About Over The Counter Pain Relievers

You can be any age and experience the muscle soreness of overexertion, or even just a common headache. Older adults have more to think about before they reach for that bottle of over-the-counter (OTC) pain reliever. Some can be dangerous to their health.

Seniors often have to deal with the aches and pains that come with chronic health conditions, and pain management may be a daily need. They’ve likely been advised by a physician about which OTC medications are best for them. It’s a different story for the occasional headache, though. Here are some tips on what to keep in mind before reaching for that bottle in the medicine cabinets.

Generally the Safest

Geriatricians agree that acetaminophen is the safest OTC pain reliever for older adults. The non-generic name for this pain reliever is Tylenol. There’s a strong warning, though, about the amount a senior should take. It’s recommended that older adults take no more than 3,000 milligrams of acetaminophen in a 24-hour period.

This is because high doses of this OTC pain reliever are known to cause serious liver damage. Adults of any age with a history of chronic liver disease or alcohol abuse should restrict their use of acetaminophen. Many other medications – both prescribed and OTC – also contain acetaminophen, so it’s important to consider whether taking additional doses will push over the 3,000-milligram limit.

This OTC pain reliever has few side-effects for older adults, as long as you stay within the limitations.

Avoid NSAIDs

There’s a reason people use the acronym of NSAID. It’s much easier than saying “non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug.” NSAIDs are the most common OTC alternative to acetaminophen. (They are sold under the brand names of Advil or Aleve).

Seniors should be extremely careful when taking NSAIDS. These OTC pain relievers are known to cause harmful side-effects for older adults. These include:

  • Stomach, small bowel, or colon bleeding. Older adults already taking daily aspirin or a blood-thinner should avoid NSAIDs.
  • Stomach lining problems.
  • Interference with high blood pressure medications.
  • Fluid retention and decreased kidney function.

The National Institutes of Health reports that more than 41,000 seniors are hospitalized each year because of complications caused by taking NSAID pain relievers. Even more alarming, the organization says it’s the cause of death for more than 3,000 older adults annually.

A physician may still prescribe NSAIDs for seniors because the anti-inflammatory effects are an effective way to treat the pain caused by arthritis.

Avoid Aspirin Too

It might be the oldest and most trusted OTC pain reliever, but aspirin has many of the same negative side-effects as NSAIDS – especially in older adults.

Sometimes it’s necessary to take an OTC pain reliever to get rid of a pesky headache. For seniors and their caregivers, the safest choice is acetaminophen. Always consult a physician if more pain relief is needed.

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