Are Aspirin and Pain Relievers Safe?

 It's easy to pop a couple aspirin for any small ache or pain, but experts warn consumers against taking too many over-the-counter drugs 

Remember that old medical line about taking two aspirins and calling the doc in the morning?

Well, it seems that taking two aspirins could lead to far more trips to the doctor's office than previously thought.

Aspirin — along with other over-the-counter drugs, including Tylenol, ibuprofin, and others — may not be the (nearly) harmless talismans that many of us believe.

Nowadays, before reaching for an aspirin or Tylenol to take care of a raging headache or an injured muscle, I ask myself if I really need them.

But I wasn't always so hesitant.

If I stayed up too late, I'd pop an aspirin to avoid the next day's potential headache. If I suspected that I'd caught a bug, I'd take a few tablets as a kind of preemptive strike.

I'd had too much to drink, my remedy was two Tylenols with two big glasses of water before going to sleep. I was convinced that a couple caplets could chase away even the worst hangover.

Then I learned that that many medical experts believe that the Food and Drug Administration would probably not approve trials of aspirin or acetaminophen today.

Apparently, while most of the 80 or so over-the-counter drugs are safe for general use, there is a risk of severe side effects — including gastrointestinal bleeding and liver and kidney failure. In fact, some believe that the FDA most likely wouldn't approve these drugs today, even with a prescription.

In the past, the FDA issued a warning on the dangers of over-the-counter painkillers. They wanted the public to understand that OTC drugs can be far more hazardous than most of us realize.

Used appropriately, these drugs are essentially safe enough. The problem is that a lot of people exceed the maximum dosages, and overdoses kill a few hundred people each year.

The FDA has posted a helpful buying guide that includes information on deciphering labels, understanding drug interactions, information on childrens' medications and taking over-the-counter drugs while pregnant or breastfeeding.

The bottom line: Hangovers and sore muscles are tolerable. Permanent damage to one's liver or other organs is not.

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