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Taking OTC Pain Medications Can Have Psychological Effects

Taking OTC Pain Medications Can Have Psychological Effects

A study suggests that ibuprofen and acetaminophen can affect your emotional response to pain.

Popping some Advil doesn’t only kill your headache, it can affect your emotional responses to pain, too. In a review published in Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences, researchers found that ibuprofen made women experience less hurt feelings when being excluded or recalling a painful memory. On the other hand, men felt more hurt after taking the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID).

Acetaminophen, a pain reliever that’s not an anti-inflammatory, also triggered dulled emotional responses: Study participants who took the drug reported feeling less emotionally upset when reading about someone experiencing physical or emotional pain—while positively evocative images triggered less happiness.

According to researchers, “In many ways, the reviewed findings are alarming. Consumers assume that when they take an over-the-counter pain medication, it will relieve their physical symptoms, but they do not anticipate broader psychological effects.”

Pay attention to how you feel after taking pain relievers, and remember these drugs aren’t intended for long-term use. If your doctor says it’s OK, limit acetaminophen to no more than 3,000 mg daily for 10 days for pain; for NSAIDs, find out if their gastrointestinal, kidney, and cardiac side effects make them risky for you. Be sure to take these medications with lots of warm water.

Medically reviewed in January 2020.

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