10 Most common side effects of Over The Counter Pain Relievers you MUST know !

Over the Counter (OTC) Pain relievers are drugs you can buy from any pharmacy without a doctor’s prescription. Most commonly used OTC drugs are Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) and Acetaminophen (Tylenol). Tylenol is often helpful with pain, but doesn’t address inflammation. On the other hand, NSAIDs help reducing inflammation hence they are called anti-inflammatory drugs.

Some of the more common Over the counter anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs) are:

  • aspirin
  • ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin)
  • naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn)

While OTC  anti-inflammatory drugs can be extremely helpful with minor, occasional conditions – such as headaches, toothaches, minor sprains or muscle cramps – it’s important to know that they also have significant risks and side effects if they are consumed chronically.

Some of the common side effects and cautions related to Over the counter pain relievers are listed below :

1. Gastric disturbanceMost common side-effects of NSAIDS are Gastro-intestinal disturbances including discomfort, nausea, diarrhea, and occasionally bleeding and gastric ulceration with their chronic use. (1)

2. Increase in blood pressure : Risk of increase in blood pressure is more in older adults when they use Over The Counter pain relievers medicine for a long time. (2)

3. Elevated risk of cardiovascular adverse effects : Use of OTC anti-inflammatory medicines are linked with decompensation of Congestive Heart Failure, risk of heart attack and stroke with their chronic use. (3)

4. Increased risk of bleeding : Bleeding risk increases if you take Overthe counter pain medicines like NSAIDS with blood thinners like coumadin. NSAIDs are also not recommended for people with ulcers of the stomach or bowels because they can impair ulcer healing and increase the risk of ulcer bleeding. In these cases, taking tylenol would be better. (4)

5. Renal dysfunction : OTC anti-inflammatory drugs can cause worsening of renal function. (5) It may also lessen response to diuretics and can cause gain in weight and swelling.

6. Liver Toxicity : Always check the dosage before taking acetaminophen (Tylenol). High doses of acetaminophen, or even standard doses over a prolonged period, can cause liver damage or failure. Adults shouldn’t take more than 3,000 milligrams a day of Tylenol. (6)  NSAIDs exhibit a broad spectrum of liver damage ranging from asymptomatic liver Injury to fulminant Liver failure. (11)

7. Reye Syndrome : It is a rare disorder that causes brain and liver damage. It is usually seen in kids who have had a recent viral infection, such as chickenpox or flu and have been treated with aspirin. (7)

8. May increase incidence of stroke : OTC anti-inflammatory drugs might be linked with higher incidence of stroke.  Although the evidence from the initial prospective trials suggested an association with coronary ischemic events, the evidence for a link between NSAIDs and stroke events remains a source of debate. However, alternative analgesics should be considered whenever possible, particularly if you are older than 60 years. (8)

9. Can worsen depression : Over the counter pain relievers like NSAIDs can reduce the effectiveness of your anti-depressant (e.g. Paxil, Zoloft). (9)

10. Can worsen your Asthma : Some studies have shown that NSAIDs use was associated with an increased risk of asthma exacerbation by hypersensitivity reaction. (10)

In Summary :

Over the counter pain relievers like NSAIDS or Tylenol are effective for treating many common minor ailments but they do carry risks and side effects. Talk to your doctor about how much of a drug is too much, and if that is a right choice for you. OTC pain killers and anti-inflammatory medications may be ingredients in certain medications, so be sure to read the label of any OTC drug you take.


Dr.Sharma is a Board certified medical Doctor who has special interest in natural holistic approach to health and healing. She uses nutrition therapies, tailored supplements and mind body modalities in her day to day clinical practice. Her mission is to spread wellness through mindful living and healthy eating ! She wants to spread awareness about power of natural products in body and Mind healing. Join her mission today !

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