How Do Painkillers Work?
For some, pain relief medication is an everyday part of life. While only a small minority of people may need to use strong pain relief on a regular basis, a majority of us will have taken mild analgesic treatment at some point, to get rid of a headache, or reduce throat pain when we’re suffering from seasonal flu.
But painkillers aren’t suitable for everyone. Some medical conditions rule out their use. For instance, someone with bowel disease may not be able to use ibuprofen, because of the drug’s sometimes harmful activity in the gut. Someone who has had a problem with alcohol or drug addiction in the past would be unsuited to tramadol, because of its potentially habit-forming effects.
So, before you buy painkillers online or from your chemist, you should really be aware of how they work. Your doctor should always take into account your medical condition before issuing you with any medicine, to protect your safety – but it’s always helpful to be in the know yourself.
Here are the three main categories of pain relief medicine, and a brief guide to how they function in the body:
Mild analgesics like paracetamol work by desensitising the nerves around an injured or inflamed area. When the body suffers an injury or damage to a particular area, the body will release chemicals called prostaglandins, which can cause pain. It is thought that this process occurs to increase our awareness of the affected area, so that we don’t inflict further damage. Paracetamol inhibits the production of prostaglandins, thereby decreasing our awareness of the pain.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen or diclofenac, work in a similar way to paracetamol, by interfering with the activity of prostaglandins. However, they are usually a stronger-acting medicine, and used in instances where paracetamol has proved insufficient.
This type of medicine works in a slightly different way. Drugs such as codeine and tramadol work by mimicking the action of endorphins in the brain. By doing so, they make the brain less aware of pain signals being transmitted to it from an injured area, thereby reducing feelings of pain.