If you suffer from aches and pains – whether it’s sore muscles, joints, a headache from time to time or other chronic pain – then you have likely had to take a pain reliever in order to find some relief. What you might not know, however, is that there are many different types of pain relievers available – both prescription and non-prescription – and they all work in their own different ways.

Among the most common of pain-relief medications are acetaminophen and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (also commonly referred to as NSAIDs.) Many of these types of medications are available to purchase without a prescription, while some are also come as prescription-only. NSAIDs are a useful pain-reliever for those who suffer from inflammation-related conditions, such as arthritis, and can also help with headaches and decreasing fever; while acetaminophen can also help decrease a fever and relieve headaches, though unlike an NSAID it does not have any effect on inflammation. Unfortunately, there are also some downsides to taking these medications – particularly if you are on them long-term. NSAIDs can be hard on the stomach and prolonged use can lead to things like stomach pain, ulcers and gastrointestinal bleeding. Acetaminophen is much easier on the stomach; however, it too comes with its own set of problems including kidney disease, bleeding in the digestive tract, as well as an increased risk of suffering a heart attack, stroke, or having high blood pressure. If you feel you need to take either of these medications on a long-term basis, always first check with your physician, as he or she may have some alternative options to help you find the relief you’re looking for.

Other commonly prescribed medications (though done-so very carefully, and only for the utmost necessary cases) are narcotics (also known as opioid pain relievers.) Narcotics include things like codeine, hydromorphone, morphine, tramadol, and oxycodone, just to name a few. These types of medications work by binding to the receptors in your brain, which then block your ability to feel pain. Due to their ability to cause dependency, these medications are not recommended for long-term use. In addition to this, they can also come with unpleasant and sometimes serious side-effects, such as nausea, vomiting, dizziness, diarrhea and/or constipation, and they also have the potential to interact with other medications you might be taking. Furthermore, they can also cause problems with sleep. When you are prescribed a narcotic, it is important that you take it exactly as your physician has prescribed it to you. For example, if you are to take 1 a day, do not exceed that. If you happen to have breakthrough pain and find that the medication isn’t helping, then you should see your physician to discuss trying a dosing change or different medication all together. After being on an opioid for a certain amount of time, you may find that your body requires more of the medication in order to achieve the same pain-relief you got when first prescribed it. This is known as tolerance, which can lead to addiction. If you have taken an opioid for an extended period of time and then suddenly stop it, you can also go into what’s known as withdrawal. During the withdrawal period, you may experience nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, anxiety, irritability, as well as an increase in your level of pain. Opioids can also be extremely dangerous when taken with certain antidepressants and antibiotics as well as if they are mixed with alcohol. In fact, this can even be fatal.