The 4 risks of taking common painkillers – from killer emergencies to debilitating pain


IF you’ve ever had a headache or some form of pain, then it’s likely you would have reached for a remedy.

Common painkillers such as paracetamol can work wonders for a variety of ailments.

Most people take a couple of pills occasionally to treat inflammatory pain. 

But those who find themselves using them daily, or more than the intended use, could be putting themselves in real danger.

Various studies have suggested that taking these pills could leave you with serious health issues.

Dr Sarah Jarvis, GP and Clinical Director of, previously said the risks associated with ibuprofen are “very well documented”.

“For most people, taking the standard dose in the short term is associated with a low risk of side effects,” she told The Sun.

“Where we get into problems is when someone is taking a high dose, or over the long term [weeks or months], but especially both together.”

1. Tinnitus

Over-the-counter painkillers such as ibuprofen, paracetamol and aspirin have previously been linked to a 20 per cent higher risk of developing tinnitus.

Tinnitus is a medical term to describe the perception of noise either in one ear, both ears or in the head, when there is no corresponding external sound.

It is often described as a “ringing in the ears” but the exact sound heard can vary from person to person.

A study by Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, US, found that frequent use could raise your risk of the condition.

Dr Sharon Curhan said: “Even though these painkillers are widely available without a prescription, these are still medications and there are potential side effects. 

“They clearly have benefits with short-term use. 

“However, frequent use over long periods of time may increase the risk of tinnitus and may cause other adverse health effects.

“It is important to take these medications mindfully and to limit their use as much as possible.”

2. Behaviour

A set of studies conducted by gurus Ohio State University found that taking acetaminophen could make people take greater risks than they usually would.

Over 100 people were given the suggested dose for a headache with some being given a placebo drug.

Each one was then asked to rate different events as to how risky they were.

Co-author of the study, Baldwin Way explained: “Acetaminophen seems to make people feel less negative emotion when they consider risky activities – they just don’t feel as scared.”

The experts found that those who had taken the pills viewed things like bungee jumping, or speaking your mind at work, as less risky than those who took the placebo pill.

3. Back pain

Most people who suffer with back pain will pop a pill to relieve the symptoms.

But previous studies have shown that some medications can actually make the pain worse.

Pills like ibuprofen, aspirin and naproxen were all trialled as part of a study at McGill University in Canada.

The results showed that anti-inflammatory pills only provided limited short term pain relief.

The medics also said that such pills can increase the risk of gastrointestinal side effects by 2.5 times.

Alongside this they found that the pills can also increase the risk of heartburn and irritation of the stomach.

4. Heart issues

If you pop painkillers on a regular basis, experts say you could put yourself at an increased risk of heart issues such as heart attacks – which are a medical emergency.

Aspirin has been linked to a 26 per cent rise in heart problems in those with at least one predisposing factor.

These include smoking, obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

A study published in ESC Heart Failure found “those taking aspirin were more likely to subsequently develop the condition than those not using the medication”.

Study author Dr. Blerim Mujaj of the University of Freiburg, Germany, said: “While the findings require confirmation, they do indicate that the potential link between aspirin and heart failure needs to be clarified.”

You should always consult your doctor or health care professional before taking any painkillers.

The NHS recommends you consult your pharmacist or doctor before taking ibuprofen if:

  • You’ve had a perforation or bleeding in your stomach, or a stomach ulcer more than once, especially if it was caused by an NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug).
  • You have a health problem that means you have an increased chance of bleeding.
  • You have severe heart failure, kidney failure, or liver failure.
  • You’re pregnant, breastfeeding, or trying to get pregnant.
  • You have high blood pressure that’s not under control, heart disease, mild to moderate heart failure, or have ever had a stroke.
  • You have kidney or liver problems, asthma, hay fever or allergies, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, or diabetes.
  • You have chickenpox or shingles, or an infection – taking ibuprofen can increase the chance of certain infections and skin reactions.

If in doubt, always speak to a pharmacist or doctor to find out if ibuprofen is right for you, and always read the leaflet in the medicine pack.

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