Painkillers, whether over-the-counter medicines or prescription-strength drugs, can help manage pain ranging from acute pain (short duration) to chronic pain (long period) and other kinds of pain.
Painkillers are potent medicines, and hence come with the risk of adverse effects. The best way to use painkillers is by taking the safest drug at the lowest effective dosage for the shortest time.
You need to be aware of possible drug interactions and side effects. Always follow the instructions on the prescription label and your doctor's recommendation. We all know that the purpose of painkillers is to offer pain relief. This article will provide information about different types of analgesics and their brief description.

Over-the-Counter (OTC) Pain Relievers

OTC pain relievers include:

  • acetaminophen (Tylenol);
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), including naproxen, ibuprofen, and diclofenac gel
    Both NSAIDs and acetaminophen reduce fever and pain caused by muscle stiffness, but only NSAIDs can help reduce inflammation (heat, swelling, redness, and irritation).
    NSAIDs relieve pain by continuously decreasing the production of prostaglandins which are hormone-like substances that causes inflammation and pain—acetaminophen functions on the brain parts that receive pain messages.
    Taking NSAIDs regularly in high doses increases the risk of heart attacks and strokes. It can also cause stomach ulcers and bleeding together with kidney problems. Using acetaminophen regularly at an immense amount can cause liver damage.
    Doctors may also prescribe topical pain relievers. Its products include lotions, creams, or sprays to apply to the skin to relieve pain from arthritis and sore muscles. Some popular, topical pain relievers include BenGay, Asper crème, diclofenac gel, capsaicin cream, and Icy Hot.

Prescription Pain Relievers

Prescription painkillers include the following:

  • Opioid pain medications
  • Corticosteroid
  • Anticonvulsants (anti-seizure medicines)
  • Antidepressants
  • Lidocaine patches
  • NSAIDs 

What are Opioids?

Opioids are narcotic pain drugs that contain synthetic, natural, and semi-synthetic opiates. Opioid pain medications are usually for acute pain, such as short-term pain post-surgery. Some of the most common opioids include Fentanyl, Codeine, Morphine, Hydrocodone-acetaminophen, Oxycodone-acetaminophen, and Oxycodone.
Opioids are effective in severe pain and do not cause stomach bleeding or bleeding in other body parts, as can some other forms of pain relievers. However, they can be addictive, and your doctor might try to find alternatives rather than prescribing them. It is rare to have opioid addiction if a person uses this category of drugs for a short duration. But if one uses them to treat chronic pain, the risk of addiction can be potentially dangerous.
Side effects of opioids may include nausea and vomiting, drowsiness, itching, constipation, addiction, or breathing problems.

What are Corticosteroid?

Prescription corticosteroid offers relief for inflamed parts of the body by easing redness, itching, swelling, and allergic reactions. This category of drugs helps treat allergies, arthritis, and asthma.
To control pain, doctors prescribe them in injections or pills that target a specific joint. This category of medications includes prednisolone, methylprednisolone, and prednisone.
Corticosteroids are vital prescription medicines that may have severe side effects such as:

  • Peptic ulcer disease
  • Weight gain and salt retention
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Mood changes
  • Thinning of the skin and bones
  • Weak immune system
  • High sugar levels

To minimize the risk of potential Corticosteroid side effects, doctors usually prescribe these medications in the lowest adequate amount for the shortest period to relieve pain as per the need. Another method to avoid the risk of side effects is by giving the steroid through injection to target the specific problem area.

What are Anticonvulsants?

Anticonvulsants typically help treat seizure disorders, but some of these medications are safe and effective for the treatment of pain as well. It is still unclear how these drugs control pain, but one can think that they minimize the nerves effect that sense pain. Some popular anticonvulsants include gabapentin (Neurontin), carbamazepine (Tegretol), topiramate (Topamax), and pregabalin (Lyrica).
In general, it is easy to tolerate this category of drugs. The most common side effects of any anticonvulsant may include dizziness, drowsiness, nausea, and fatigue.

What are Antidepressants?

Antidepressants hold the capacity to treat pain and emotional conditions by adjusting neurotransmitter levels in the brain. This category of medications can increase the body's presence of signals that indicate well-being and relaxation, enabling pain control in people with chronic pain issues who fail to respond to other usual treatments completely. Research suggests specific antidepressants (tricyclics) function best for nerve or neuropathic pain.
Chronic pain conditions treatment by low-dose antidepressants includes various types of headaches such as migraines and menstrual pain. Some of the most commonly prescribed antidepressant medicines include:

  • Tricyclic antidepressants such as nortriptyline (Pamelor), imipramine (Tofranil), doxepin (Silenor), desipramine (Norpramin), and amitriptyline
  • SSRIs or Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors such as sertraline (Zoloft), paroxetine (Paxil), fluoxetine (Prozac), and citalopram (Celexa)
  • SNRIs or Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors such as venlafaxine (Effexor) and duloxetine (Cymbalta)

This category of drugs requires a medicine dose for medicine buildup in the body over a specific period to work. The initial doses for pain treatment are often lower than those needed for depression treatment.
Generally, SNRIs and SSRIs have fewer side effects than tricyclic antidepressants. Common side effects of any antidepressant include:

  • Constipation
  • Blurry vision
  • Dry mouth
  • Difficulty in urination
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Headache

Other Pain Treatments

Another measure of topical pain relief comes in the form of lidocaine (Lidoderm) patch, a prescription drug.
Muscle relaxers function by depressing the senses of the central nervous system (CNS), aiding to relieve muscle spasms and tension with often occurrence of drowsiness. They can be effective for short-duration use for acute flare-ups of nerve pain and back pain. They also help treat nighttime muscle pain that may occur because of fibromyalgia.
If usual treatments fail to treat pain, your medical healthcare provider may you to a doctor who specializes in pain management. Pain management specialists may try other beneficial therapies such as specific physical therapy or other forms of medicine. The specialists may also recommend TENS, which is placed on the skin as it helps send signals that control the pain.