Chronic pain: Expert discusses 'conflict' with using painkillers
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Pain – especially of the chronic kind – greatly undermines quality of life for millions of people in the UK. Fortunately, there are numerous interventions that can offer short-term and long-term relief. Painkillers often satisfy the former but they can also aid the latter. Codeine is a painkiller that’s often used to treat long-standing pain when everyday painkillers do not cut it.
Codeine can be highly effective but you have to use it cautiously.
Speaking to Express.co.uk, Giulia Guerrini, lead pharmacist at digital pharmacy www.medino.com, issued a grave warning about the popular painkiller.
“Codeine is a medication you need to be careful with as it can cause a major chronic complication: addiction,” she explained.
Ms Guerrini continued: “Becoming addicted to codeine can cause long term mental and physical problems, such as liver damage, kidney damage and acute pancreatitis.
“Alongside this, certain parts of your brain can also become damaged, resulting in an increased risk of developing chronic depression and anxiety.”
What does Ms Guerrini advise?
“Although codeine is sold over the counter, it shouldn’t be used for any longer than three days and should only be used if completely necessary.”
She added: “Always try other first-line medications to combat pain in the first instance and, if you’re ever unsure, speak to a pharmacist.”
Ms Guerrini rightly pointed out that many people live under the misapprehension that it’s impossible to gain an addiction to an over-the-counter drug.
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“However, too many people have become addicted and now have to deal with much more serious issues than pain.”
Who can and can’t take codeine
According to the NHS, codeine can be taken by adults and children aged 12 years and older.
“Only give codeine to children (aged 12 to 18 years) if everyday painkillers such as paracetamol and ibuprofen haven’t worked,” explains the health body.
Codeine is not suitable for everyone, however.
Tell your doctor before starting the medicine if you have:
- Had an allergic reaction to codeine or any other medicines in the past
- A lung problem
- A head injury
- Adrenal gland problems
- An illness which causes seizures
- An addiction to alcohol
- An underactive thyroid gland
- Kidney or liver problems
- An enlarged prostate
- Low blood pressure
- Myasthenia gravis (a rare illness that causes muscle weakness)
- Symptoms of ulcerative colitis (a bowel condition).
What are the side effects of taking codeine?
You’re unlikely to get side-effects from taking over-the-counter (OTC) painkillers, as long as you take them occasionally and don’t take more than the recommended dose.
However, as Bupa notes, opioid painkillers such as codeine can cause constipation, and you might feel sick after taking it.
Echoing Ms Guerrini’s warning, the health body notes that some people who take opioid painkillers may become dependent on them.
“If you find that you need to take more than is recommended or that they don’t work as well as they did, speak to your GP,” advises the health body.
Also, codeine can cause drowsiness, so you can still drive and operate machinery when you take them, it warns.
“So don’t take this painkiller if you need to drive or operate machinery.”
If you stop taking codeine suddenly it can also cause unpleasant withdrawal symptoms such as:
- Feeling agitated
- Feeling anxious
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