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Overusing OTC pain meds can be dangerous

Ignoring warnings about recommended dosages for over-the-counter pain relievers can cause unexpected health complications.

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Americans spend more than $2 billion annually on over-the-counter pain medications for all types of aches and pains. But they should be cautious in the amount of drugs they take, Consumer Reports warns.

More than 350 kinds of pain relievers fill drugstore shelves. Many people think such medications as aspirin, acetaminophen and ibuprofen are completely safe, because they are sold over the counter.

Those drugs, though, carry warnings saying, "Do not take more than directed" or "Do not exceed recommended dose."

When the recommended dose doesn't work, many people don't heed the warnings. But Consumer Reports says beware of overusing OTC pain relievers.

"People don't realize it's risky to take more than the recommended dose or to use pain relievers for weeks at a time without consulting a doctor," said Gayle Williams, with Consumer Reports.

Overuse of pain relievers can lead to many health problems, according to Consumer Reports' survey of 47,000 subscribers.

"Four percent – nearly 2,000 people – suffered serious side effects, including ulcers or problems with their kidneys, heart or liver," Williams said.

A published report cited overdoses of acetaminophen as the leading cause of acute liver failure in the United States.

Using too much ibuprofen can cause bleeding in the stomach and intestines. It can also increase the risk for heart or circulation problems.

If you consistently take OTC drugs, keep your doctor informed. There might be a prescription medication that will work better with your symptoms and not have the same side effects.

Remember that your pharmacist is also a great resource. If you take a lot of OTC drugs, talk to your pharmacist about possible drug interactions and alternatives.



Monica Laliberte, Reporter
David McCorkle, Photographer
Lori Lair, Producer
Anne Johnson, Web Editor

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