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Painkillers (analgesics)

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What are painkillers (analgesics)?

Painkillers are drugs that help to reduce pain. When we talk about painkillers we’re normally referring to a group of drugs called analgesics.

You don’t need to wait until your pain is severe to use painkillers, and you can take them before exercise so you can carry on without too much discomfort. Follow the instructions your doctor gives you or the instructions on the packet.

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Simple non-opioid analgesics

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

Paracetamol is a type of simple non-opioid analgesic.

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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.

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Compound analgesics

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

  • co-codamol
  • co-codaprin
  • co-dydramol.
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Opioid analgesics

Opioid analgesics are the strongest types of painkiller. They're used for moderate to severe pain and can be taken alongside non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for severe pain. They have more side-effects than simple analgesics and are only available on prescription. Example include:

  • codeine
  • fentanyl 
  • morphine.
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Which drugs can help with osteoarthritis?

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

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Which drugs can help with inflammatory arthritis?

Different drugs are prescribed for different types of inflammatory arthritis. Your treatment could involve a combination of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)steroid tablets and steroid injections, and disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs).

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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
  • pregabalin.
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What if I have problems with my heart?

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