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Study shows people unaware of harmful effects of painkillers


Findings signify need for patient education on complications of misusing painkillers

According to a study supported by the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA), over-the-counter and prescription painkillers are often used inappropriately and there is an alarming number of people who are ignorant to the potential side effects. Despite the widespread use of store-bought and prescription painkillers, also known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), this is the first study to look at the characteristics of the population who frequently uses painkillers and their attitudes and behaviors. The study is published in the November issue of the Journal of Rheumatology.

"This study shows just how common these medications are used and highlights the lack of insight into their potential dangers," said C. Mel Wilcox, MD, lead study author from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. "The findings paint a clear picture of the need for patient and physician education efforts and interventions to help prevent unnecessary complications from painkillers."

A nationwide survey of adult households in the United States was commissioned to determine perceptions of NSAIDs users on the effectiveness of the drugs and their safety, and knowledge regarding side effects and medical complications associated with over-the-counter and prescription painkillers. NSAID users were defined in the study as those people who used prescription or over-the-counter painkillers on at least two occasions in the year prior to the survey for at least five consecutive days at a time.

Of the 807 people surveyed who used NSAIDs, 54 percent were not aware of the potential side effects of these drugs and 18 percent has previously experienced side effects. Those who used over-the-counter painkillers commonly experienced side effects such as stomach pain, internal bleeding and ulcers. Moreover, nearly 30 percent of these people did not consider themselves at risk for any side effects associated with painkiller use. Similar numbers of people who exclusively used prescription painkillers were unaware of their risks and experienced complications.

Everyday more than 36 million people take over-the-counter and prescription NSAIDs for pain relief, headaches and arthritis, with nearly 25 percent exceeding the recommended dosage. Although long-term use of NSAIDs in high doses can provide great benefit in terms of anti-inflammatory effects, pain relief and cardioprotective effects, there is an increased risk of gastrointestinal complications ranging from stomach pain to ulcers, hemorrhage, and severe and potentially deadly gastrointestinal problems. Each year, the side effects of long-term NSAID use cause nearly 103,000 hospitalizations and 16,500 deaths by some estimates.

In 2003, the AGA launched the R.E.D.U.C.E. (Risk Education to Decrease Ulcer Complications and Their Effects from NSAIDs) Campaign to help explain the potentially harmful effects of NSAIDs and how Americans can lower their risk for serious gastrointestinal problems. The findings of this study make programs like the R.E.D.U.C.E. campaign relevant and useful to the population of people who use painkillers regularly and the physicians who treat them. Pfizer provided funding for the R.E.D.U.C.E. campaign.

Kimberly Wise | EurekAlert!
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