Painkillers (analgesics)

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What are painkillers (analgesics)?

Painkillers are drugs that help to reduce pain. There are many different types of pain-relieving drugs, but when we talk about painkillers we’re normally referring to a group of drugs called analgesics.

Simple non-opioid analgesics

Simple non-opioid analgesics are the most common form of analgesic. They're used for mild to moderate pain.


You can take paracetamol for mild to moderate pain, headaches and muscular pains, and to reduce a fever. If your pain is caused by osteoarthritis, it’s usually the first treatment recommended.

Compound analgesics

Compound analgesics are a combination of two different drugs in one tablet, usually including paracetamol, aspirin, codeine and dihydrochloride. They're used for mild to moderate pain. Examples include:
  • co-codamol
  • co-codaprin
  • co-dydramol.

Opioid analgesics

Opioid analgesics are the strongest types of painkiller. They're used for moderate to severe pain. Examples include:
  • codeine and dihydrocodeine
  • tramadol
  • buprenorphine
  • fentanyl
  • morphine
  • oxycodone
  • methadone.

Which medications can help with osteoarthritis?

If your pain is caused by osteoarthritis, simple analgesics are normally the first treatment recommended.

Which medications can help with inflammatory arthritis?

The drugs you’re prescribed for inflammatory arthritis will depend on your condition. Treatment could involve a combination of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)steroid tablets and steroid injections, and disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs).

Which drugs can be used for nerve (neuropathic) pain?

If you have nerve pain, it may respond to stronger opioid painkillers but you may need other drugs, for example amitriptyline, gabapentin or pregabalin.

What painkillers can I take if I have heart problems?

Your doctor may advise you against taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) if you have heart problems because there’s evidence that they may increase your risk of future cardiovascular issues.

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