When & how to use painkillers


Painkillers are among the most widely used of all medicines. But pain has many causes, so knowing which pain medicine is most suitable for easing your pain is not always easy. Your pharmacist can advise you on painkiller options if you're not sure which type is designed to help relieve your symptoms.

What's the difference between painkiller medicines?

Most pain medicines can be divided into three categories:


This is one of the most common painkillers and is suitable for mild-to-moderate pain, such as toothache and headaches. It is sold both under this name and under various brand names. Because it also helps bring down a high temperature (fever), many cold and flu medicines contain paracetamol. Always check the label of these types of medicines – it's important you don’t take more than one paracetamol-based medicine at the same time.

Non-Steroidal Anti Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)

These are used to relieve pain and reduce fever. Among the most common NSAIDs is ibuprofen, which is also sold both in branded or generic versions. Because they reduce inflammation, NSAIDs are widely used in the treatment of arthritis, and for strains and sprains.

Speak to your pharmacist or doctor to see if NSAIDs are suitable for you. They are available in many forms, including tablets, capsules, creams and gels.  NSAIDs should be avoided during pregnancy unless taken under the supervision of a doctor. At normal (recommended) doses, paracetamol can be a safer alternative.

Some people may need to avoid NSAIDs, always speak to your pharmacist or doctor if you are not sure. In particular, people who have had a stomach ulcer should avoid NSAIDs.

Is my pain serious?

The rule of thumb with all pain and pain relief is that if the problem persists for more than a few days, then you should consult your Doctor – or your dentist for oral pain.

How do I treat my pain?

There are many paracetamol and NSAID products available without prescription. If you are at all unsure, consult your pharmacist. They may also recommend non-medical alternatives alongside painkillers.

How do I treat my child's pain?

For pain relief in children, specially formulated paracetamol and ibuprofen are suitable options at appropriate doses. Always follow the manufacturer’s dosage instructions closely, and if you’re in any doubt, ask your pharmacist. Aspirin is not suitable for children under the age of 16 unless prescribed by a doctor.

Can lifestyle choices help reduce pain?

With pain, prevention – where possible – is always better than cure. Healthy lifestyle choices are one way to reduce the need for painkillers. Eating healthily and staying active helps prevent weight gain, which reduces the strain on weight-bearing joints. Regular exercise, such as walking, swimming or yoga, can also help prevent muscular and skeletal problems, which are the most common causes of pain.

Next steps

• Consider oral medicines like paracetamol or NSAIDs for mild-to-moderate pain

• Consult your Doctor if symptoms persist for more than three days

• If you have severe pain, in particular chest pain, dial 999 straight away