482 Common Medicines
Medicines for pain
Pain is a sign of a problem, such as an injury or infection. So it is very important
to treat the problem that is causing the pain, and not just the pain. But during the
treatment, the pain can be eased with pain medicines. With some illnesses that
cannot be cured, like AIDS and cancer, pain can be disabling and last a long time.
When treating pain:
• try to find and treat the cause of the pain.
• try the weakest pain medicines first and
use stronger ones only if needed.
• treatment for ongoing pain should be given regularly.
Don’t wait until the pain returns before the next dose.
• think about other ways to relieve pain: relaxation exercises, acupressure, or
putting heat or cold where the pain is (see pages 423 and 546).
For mild to moderate pain, as with monthly bleeding or a headache:
Paracetamol (acetaminophen) is widely available and cheap. It is the safest pain
medicine for pregnant and breastfeeding women, and it also works to reduce fever.
Do not take it with alcohol or to treat a hangover, or if you have liver or kidney
Aspirin is also widely available, cheap, and works well to lower fever and to treat
pain and inflammation in muscles and joints, and for pain with monthly bleeding.
Breastfeeding women can use aspirin one week after the baby is born, but pregnant
women should use paracetamol instead. It is safe when taken in the correct
amounts, but it can irritate the stomach, so it should not be taken by people with
stomach ulcers. Aspirin keeps blood from clotting normally, so it should not be
taken if the person is bleeding or before any surgery.
Ibuprofen is widely available but more expensive than aspirin or paracetamol. Like
aspirin, it is very effective in lower doses for pain with monthly bleeding, and for
muscle and joint pain and inflammation. Ibuprofen is a good medicine for the lasting
pain of arthritis. It can also cause irritation of the stomach and bleeding problems,
so it should not be taken before surgery or by people with stomach ulcers.
Breastfeeding women can use ibuprofen but pregnant women should not use it
during the last 3 months of pregnancy.
For moderate to severe pain:
Ibuprofen in larger doses can be effective (up to 800 mg 3 to 4 times daily).
Codeine is a drug of the opiate family which is useful for pain after surgery or an
injury. Taking codeine for too long can cause addiction.
For severe or ongoing pain:
Codeine in higher doses can be used for severe pain.
Morphine is a very strong medicine of the opiate family that is good for pain during
the last stages of cancer or AIDS. Morphine is usually difficult to get unless you are
in a hospital, but it may be available with a doctor’s prescription.
Where Women Have No Doctor 2012