Patients' OTC Painkiller Choices Lack Safety Considerations

Almost all American consumers feel confident when choosing an OTC pain reliever to purchase, but few pay heed to key safety factors when doing so.

Almost all American consumers feel confident when choosing an OTC pain reliever to purchase, but few pay heed to key safety factors when doing so.

According to a survey of nearly 1300 US adults by the US Pain Foundation, with support from McNeil Consumer Healthcare, 94% of Americans depend on OTC pain relievers to manage their pain, with 53% of them taking one at least every week.

Alarmingly, more than half of those consumers automatically choose which OTC pain reliever to take based on how quickly and effectively they think it works, rather than carefully choosing the right option based on their health profile, including pre-existing health conditions, medicines they’re currently taking, and age. Nearly half (45%) of the consumers surveyed said they don’t consider the prescription medicines they’re currently taking when choosing an OTC pain reliever, 65% don’t consider other OTC medicines they’re taking, and 58% don’t consider their pre-existing health conditions. An astounding 20% don’t consider their health profile at all.

A patient’s health profile can have a significant impact on which OTC medicine is appropriate to take because certain existing factors can increase the risks associated with particular OTC pain relievers. For example, if patients have existing stomach or heart conditions, or they’re older than 60 years, some OTC nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs may increase their risk of heart attack, stroke, or stomach bleeding.

“Not every OTC pain reliever is appropriate for everyone. When you’re in pain, it becomes easy to reach for the first OTC pain reliever on the shelf, but it’s always important to consider your current health profile,” noted David Biondi, DO, FAAN, senior director of medical affairs and clinical research at McNeil Consumer Healthcare, in a press release.

Many patients also may not realize that an OTC pain reliever that they used in the past may no longer be the most appropriate choice for them. For instance, 37% of the 125 patients with cardiovascular disease and 43% of the 125 patients with high blood pressure surveyed said they don’t consider their current health condition when selecting an OTC painkiller, further increasing their chances of harmful side effects.

Choosing the correct OTC medicine can be simple for your patients if they follow these tips and tricks:

1. Make sure to always read and follow the Drug Facts label.

2. Stick to the recommended dose and keep track of other concurrent medicines and how they might interact.

3. Take only 1 medicine with the same kind of active ingredient at a time.

4. Avoid taking OTC pain relievers longer than directed on the label. When it comes to OTC medicines, more doesn’t necessarily mean better.

OTC pain relievers provide safe and effective relief, but these medicines are not without risk. Pharmacists should make sure patients are taking the right steps when choosing an OTC medicine in order to help them avoid unnecessary risks while achieving safe and effective relief.