Painkillers Health Risks: Are They Making You Sick?

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Painkillers Health RisksEvery day I hear stories from patients who experience debilitating, chronic pain.

One of my patients wakes up every morning to an aching sinus infection. Another suffers from a “shooting” pain sensation in the lower back.

An older patient of mine experiences rheumatoid arthritis, with burning joint tenderness around their elbows and shoulders.

Not to mention, when I get home from a long workday, I sometimes experience excruciatingly painful headaches!Living with pain is a common reality for many people. In the U.S., an estimated 100 million Americans suffer from chronic pain.What is the easy solution to kill pain? In 2012, healthcare providers wrote 259 million prescriptions. That is one bottle of painkillers for every American adult! That’s crazy, right?Needless to say, these pills are overprescribed, and that can result in addiction to painkillers as well as painkiller-overdose related deaths. Some common prescription painkillers include “Vicodin” (hydrocodone and acetaminophen) and “OxyContin” (oxycodone). Approximately 15,000 people die every year in the U.S. from a painkiller prescription overdose.Studies have also found that painkillers referred to as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can increase the risk of heart disease. NSAIDs may include ibuprofen, diclofenac, and coxibs.

Are Painkillers a Heart Health Hazard?

In a population-based study published in the online journal BMJ Open in 2014, painkillers were found to double the risk of an atrial fibrillation. Atrial fibrillation is the most common form of arrhythmia—also known as an irregular heartbeat. It is a problem for more than 2.5 million people in the U.S.An atrial fibrillation will also increase the risk of other cardiovascular diseases such as heart failure, stroke, and heart attack. In the U.S., there are 1.5 million strokes and heart attacks every year. There are also about 5.1 million people who currently suffer from heart failure. Overall, heart disease kills about 610,000 people a year.In the study, Dutch researchers from the Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, would observe 8,423 people aged 55 and over. The participants did not have atrial fibrillation when the trial began, but researchers followed-up with the participants about 13 years later, and discovered that 856 participants developed atrial fibrillation. From that group, 554 people had previously taken NSAIDs; 42 were currently on them and 261 had never taken the drugs.The researchers attributed current chronic usage of NSAIDs with a 76% risk of atrial fibrillation. NSAID usage within a 30-day period also increased the risk of atrial fibrillation by 84%.So what causes the increase risk of atrial fibrillation? The researchers believe that NSAIDs may interfere with the production of a particular enzyme called cyclooxygenase; and as a result of fluid retention, blood pressure may increase. High blood pressure increases the risk of stroke and atrial fibrillation.The study was not without its faults. It did not include over-the-counter NSAID versions, such as “Advil,” “Motrin” or “Aleve.” The researchers would not say whether the study warrants further research on the link between atrial fibrillation and NSAIDs.

However, the Dutch study supported previous trials of the health risk of hazardous painkillers. Other evidence has linked NSAIDs with heart disease, heart failure, stroke, and angina.

In a 2012 study published in the journal Circulation, researchers discovered that painkillers are also connected with an increased risk of heart attacks. The study observed 99,187 patients that suffered a first-time heart attack, and 44,608 were prescribed NSAIDs. In total, there were 28,693 coronary deaths associated with the heart attacks. Overall, there were more deaths per NSAID users than non-NSAID users.

Painkiller Addiction: People at Greatest Risk

People who have a history of heart conditions should definitely avoid NSAIDs at all costs. Individuals with kidney disease, a history of upper gastrointestinal bleeding or peptic ulcers should avoid painkillers, such as NSAIDs. People who have high blood pressure or high cholesterol or are obese or smokers should consult a doctor before the use of over-the-counter painkillers.

The watchdog organization Therapeutic Good Administration (TGA) recently reviewed the health risks of painkillers and decided to make warning labels mandatory on common over-the-counter painkillers. Painkiller drugs containing ketoprofen, ibuprofen, flurbiprofen, naproxen, or mefenamic acid must now feature labels advising that excessive use can increase the risk of stroke or heart attack.

The TGA review also found that the over-the-counter painkiller diclofenac is associated with an increased risk of stroke, heart attack, and liver damage. As a result, a warning label was issued to advise people against prolonged use of the painkiller.

The problem is, it’s not that simple for many people to avoid painkillers. In 2007, 1.7 million Americans aged 12 and older abused painkillers or had a painkiller addiction. According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, in 2010, 12 million Americans used prescription painkillers over that year for non-medical reasons—that’s one in 20 people!

Are You Addicted to Painkillers?

How do you know if you are, or someone you live is, addicted to painkillers? The person may lie to the pharmacist about the prescription being lost. They may also run out of painkillers quickly, use multiple doctors for painkillers, or borrow painkillers, or they may ask for the painkiller by its specific name. The most commonly abused prescription painkillers include codeine, morphine, fentanyl, oxycodone, and hydrocodone.

It can be a challenge to avoid painkiller addiction. Often a person will experience withdrawal symptoms, such as anxiety, poor appetite, tremors or shaking, low energy, flu-like symptoms, headaches, confusion, sweating, moodiness, trouble sleeping, and muscle aches. The second phase of withdrawal symptoms will include diarrhea, dilated pupils, vomiting and nausea, abdominal cramps, and rapid heartbeat.

Natural Painkiller Addiction Treatments

Luckily, it’s possible to avoid painkiller addiction with a holistic approach. Here are a few steps you can take:

1. Whole food dietary approach: A healthy diet with lots of nutrient-dense vegetables and fruits can help ease your mind, and the pain, when you experience painkiller addiction withdrawal symptoms. A diet rich in dark green leafy vegetables can help combat inflammation, and they are also useful for drug detoxification. It is also good to include anti-inflammatory spices in your diet, such as turmeric, ginger, cloves, or rosemary. Other good anti-inflammatory foods include blueberries, wild salmon, garlic, and certain teas such as matcha or tulsi.

2. Relaxing exercises: Painkiller withdrawal can lead to physical and emotional pain. Doing light, relaxing exercises can help refocus a person’s energy and minimize their discomfort from the addiction to painkillers. The best exercises to try are yoga, meditation, tai chi, qigong, or walking in nature.

3. Alternative therapy: There may be emotional blocks associated with painkiller addiction. A body-centered psychotherapist will consider an alternative therapeutic approach to removing barriers to addiction. Some modalities include hypnosis and qigong healing or Reiki.

4. Acupuncture treatment: Acupuncture therapy, auricular (ear) acupuncture, or acupressure is a safe and inexpensive painkiller addiction treatment that can help reduce painkiller withdrawal symptoms. It can also prevent a painkiller relapse. Some acupuncture points include Shenshu, Sishencong, Zusanli, and Neiguan. Common pressure points for the ear include the sympathetic, shenmen, kidney, and lung.

5. Homeopathy painkiller alternatives: Homeopathic remedies also help reduce painkiller addiction withdrawal symptoms. A few effective remedies for a drug detoxification program may include nux vomica, ignatia, and avena sativa. Furthermore, there are effective homeopathic remedies to relieve pain, including arnica montana, bryonia alba, gelsemium and causticum.

Many conventional painkiller detox programs will suggest over-the-counter medications to ease your pain. But there are plenty of natural supplements that can be used as an alternative, including curcumin, boswellia, and omega-3 fatty acids like fish oil, capsaicin, and 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP). Natural supplements and homeopathic remedies offer an addiction-free solution with limited side effects.

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