Over The Counter Pain Relievers

Many sufferers of fibromyalgia look to over-the-counter medications for relief from their symptoms. These over-the-counter medications can sometimes prove effective, especially at reducing the muscle aches and chronic migraines caused by the syndrome. Currently, up to 6 million American men and women are suffering from the effects of fibromyalgia. Many of these patients are unable to work, travel, or even socialize as a result of their disease. If you too are suffering from the symptoms of fibromyalgia syndrome, consult with your health care provider and find out if over the counter pain relievers are right for you.

What are Over-The-Counter Pain Relievers?
Over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers are pain medications that are available without prescription at your local drugstore. When you visit your pharmacy or drugstore, you will see dozens of different kinds of over-the-counter drugs, so it is important to do your research and find out exactly what you need. OTC medicine typically falls into two categories: analgesics and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Fibromyalgia sufferers commonly use both of these types of medications.


Analgesics are also known as pain killers. They aim to reduce pain in the muscles and joints and are also commonly used to reduce fever and cold symptoms. There are two types of analgesics: narcotic analgesics and non-narcotic analgesics. Only non-narcotic analgesics are available over-the-counter. Non-narcotic analgesics are some of the most commonly used over-the-counter drugs in the world, and they are typically heralded for their safety and effectiveness. The most popular over-the-counter analgesic is acetaminophen, which is found in a number of medications, including Tylenol.

How do Analgesics Work?
Analgesics work to reduce pain by interfering with signals going to and coming from your brain. When part of your body senses pain, signals are sent from that body part to your brain. Your brain interprets these signals and answers them with a response - a feeling of pain. Analgesics block pain signals from getting to the brain in the first place, causing your pain symptoms to disappear. Sometimes analgesics also interfere with the ways in which your brain interprets certain pain signals.

Side Effects of Over-The-Counter Analgesics
Even over-the-counter pain relief medication has side effects that you must be aware of. Speak with your health care provider before taking any OTC medications for your fibromyalgia symptoms. Acetaminophen, the most popular over-the-counter pain reliever, is generally safe. However, if not taken correctly, acetaminophen side effects can include:

  • fever
  • bleeding or bruising
  • sores or ulcers on the lips and mouth
  • decrease in urination
  • rash or hives
  • sharp, stabbing pain in the lower back or side
  • severe, unexplainable weakness

Effectiveness in Fibromyalgia
Many fibromyalgia sufferers use over-the-counter analgesics. Unfortunately, these pain relievers often do not provide good, long-term pain relief. Tylenol and other analgesics can provide temporary pain relief, and are especially helpful for reducing the pain of chronic headaches and migraines. However, many sufferers report that over-the-counter pain relievers just aren't effective enough to provide maximum pain relief.


Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) are a type of medication designed to relieve both pain and inflammation caused by a number of illnesses. Available both by prescription and over-the-counter, these anti-inflammatory pain killers are used to treat pain caused by strains, sprains, dysmenorrhea, and arthritis. Recently, NSAIDs have also been used to treat fibromyalgia pain. Over-the-counter NSAIDs are very commonly used and generally safe and effective. Some of the most popular over-the-counter NSAID pain killers include aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen, and ketoprofen.

How do NSAIDs Work?
NSAIDs work to relieve pain and inflammation in the body by inhibiting the production of pain-producing prostaglandins. Prostaglandins are chemicals produced by cells throughout your body. Among other functions, these prostaglandins promote fever, pain, and inflammation in various areas of the body. Prostaglandins are the product of a special enzyme in the body, known as the Cox enzyme. NSAID medication works by blocking the production of the Cox enzyme, thereby reducing the number of prostaglandins in the body.

Side Effects of NSAIDs
Though NSAIDs are sold over-the-counter, they do pose some health risks. They may cause minor side effects as well as more serious long-term health problems when they are taken for extended periods of time. Side effects of aspirin and other NSAIDs include:

  • diarrhea
  • constipation
  • rash
  • dizziness
  • headache

More seriously, long-term use of NSAIDs can cause severe gastrointestinal and liver damage. Prostaglandins also cover the lining of your stomach. NSAIDs prevent the production of more prostaglandins, allowing acid to seep through the lining. This can lead to the formation of ulcers, which can cause life-threatening internal bleeding. There is also some evidence that NSAIDs destroy vitamin stores in the body, contributing to fatigue. It is recommended that NSAIDs only be taken for a limited time or under the supervision of a health care professional

Effectiveness of NSAIDS on Fibromyalgia Symptoms
NSAIDs are commonly used to treat fibromyalgia pain. However, effectiveness tends to vary from patient to patient and drug to drug. NSAIDs, especially ibuprofen and aspirin therapy, seem to relieve mild to moderate fibromyalgia pain, but does little for severe pain. NSAIDs also seem to be more of a quick relief, providing little long-term benefit. NSAIDs are developed to reduce inflammation, but fibromyalgia is a non-inflammatory disease. Therefore, these drugs can only work for a little while to reduce the pain caused by fibromyalgia. However, NSAIDs are highly effective at reducing the pain of dysmenorrhea, a common symptom of fibromyalgia.

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