What Are the Different Types of Medications for Pain Management?

M.C. Huguelet
M.C. Huguelet
A packet of naproxen sodium pills, a type of painkiller.
A packet of naproxen sodium pills, a type of painkiller.

Pain can disrupt one’s ability to carry out even the simplest actions, potentially making life feel challenging and unpleasant. Luckily, there are a number of different medications for pain management which can help restore one’s sense of well-being. Knowing a bit about the benefits and potential side effects of these drugs can help pain sufferers make an informed decision about their treatment. Among the most common over-the-counter medications for pain management are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and acetaminophen. The most common prescription pain management drug options include opioids, corticosteroids, and antidepressants.

Opioids, such as codeine and morphine, are often prescribed to manage pain.
Opioids, such as codeine and morphine, are often prescribed to manage pain.

For mild to moderate pain, many people find that over-the-counter drugs are among the most useful medications for pain management. Over-the-counter pain management drugs include acetaminophen as well as NSAIDs such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen sodium. Acetaminophen works by inhibiting the brain’s ability to sense pain, while NSAIDs function by interrupting the production of prostaglandins, chemicals produced by the body that contribute to swelling and the sensation of pain. It should be noted that overdosing on acetaminophen can cause liver damage, while NSAIDs are known to produce stomach bleeding in some people. Consequently, it is important to take over-the-counter pain management drugs according to packaging instructions, and to speak to one’s physician before combining an over-the-counter drug with another pain medication.

Proper pain assessment and management can be challenging, especially in cases that involve chronic pain.
Proper pain assessment and management can be challenging, especially in cases that involve chronic pain.

Opioids such as codeine and morphine are a common prescription pain management option. These drugs can dramatically inhibit the body’s ability to sense pain, and thus are often a good treatment choice for the intense pain that may accompany major surgeries or chronic illnesses. Opioids may be administered in several different ways, such as orally, intravenously, or through a skin patch. As they can cause a number of undesirable side effects such as sleepiness, constipation, respiratory difficulties, and even addiction, they are often not recommended for long-term use.

Pain management may be necessary for a patient coping with a serious illness.
Pain management may be necessary for a patient coping with a serious illness.

Certain drugs which were designed to treat issues unrelated to pain can actually be effective medications for pain management in some people. For instance, corticosteroids, normally used to treat certain respiratory problems and allergies, can in some cases help reduce inflammation which may be contributing to pain. Corticosteroids may be administered orally or through an injection. It should be noted that they can cause several unpleasant side effects, such as nausea, insomnia, and weight gain, and therefore they may not be a good choice for everyone.

Some drugs which were created to treat depression can also be useful in managing pain. Rather than inhibiting the body’s ability to sense pain, like many other medications for pain management do, antidepressant drugs mediate pain by increasing the release of those chemicals responsible for feelings of bodily comfort and contentment. When used to treat pain, antidepressants are generally administered in low doses and are less likely to cause side effects than many other pain medications.

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    • A packet of naproxen sodium pills, a type of painkiller.
      A packet of naproxen sodium pills, a type of painkiller.
    • Opioids, such as codeine and morphine, are often prescribed to manage pain.
      Opioids, such as codeine and morphine, are often prescribed to manage pain.
    • Proper pain assessment and management can be challenging, especially in cases that involve chronic pain.
      Proper pain assessment and management can be challenging, especially in cases that involve chronic pain.
    • Pain management may be necessary for a patient coping with a serious illness.
      Pain management may be necessary for a patient coping with a serious illness.