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What are pain relievers?

Pain relievers ease discomfort brought on by illness, injury, surgical procedures and chronic conditions. Everyone experiences pain differently. Pain may come on suddenly (acute). Chronic pain can last for months or years.

Pain relievers go by many names:

  • Analgesics.
  • Narcotics.
  • Painkillers.
  • Pain medicine.

What are the types of pain relievers?

There are many different types of pain relievers. The best one for you depends on many factors, including the cause of pain and its severity.

Types of pain relievers include:

  • Over-the-counter (OTC): These medications are available at stores. Any adult can buy them.
  • Prescription: These medications are only available with a prescription from a healthcare provider. Prescription painkillers provide stronger pain relief. They treat severe or chronic pain.

What are the types of over-the-counter pain relievers?

Common OTC pain medications include:

  • Acetaminophen: This drug (Tylenol®) dulls pain receptors in the brain. As a result, you feel less pain.
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): NSAIDs lower the production of prostaglandins. These hormone-like chemicals irritate nerve endings, causing inflammation and pain. NSAIDs include aspirin compounds (Excedrin®), ibuprofen (Advil® and Motrin®) and naproxen sodium (Aleve®).
  • Combination: Some pain relievers contain both acetaminophen and aspirin (an NSAID). Certain OTC headache medicines also have caffeine.
  • Topical: You apply this pain medication directly to your skin. It comes as a cream, gel, spray or patch. Topical medicines block pain receptors in the brain. They may contain aspirin, lidocaine, capsaicin pepper or other medication. Some topical treatments make the skin feel warmer or cooler. Common brands are Aspercreme® and Ben-Gay.
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