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Best painkillers for your pain

WebMD Medical Reference
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

Different painkillers work better for different types of pain and some painkillers may not be appropriate for some people. For example, children under 16 should never be given aspirin except on medical advice. Some painkillers are generally available in shops, some in pharmacies and others are only available with a prescription.

If you are not sure about which painkiller is right for you, seek medical advice. Only take the dose recommended on the packet or as advised by a medical professional. To avoid taking too high a dose, remember, some pain killing ingredients can also be found different products. For example, paracetamol may also be found in cold remedies.

Painkilling ingredients like paracetamol and ibuprofen may also be found in branded medicines, but generic versions are usually cheaper.


Paracetamol is a common type of painkiller which is widely available in tablets, caplets and as age-appropriate liquid suitable for children.

Paracetamol is often taken for headaches, non- nerve pain and the symptoms of colds or flu.

This treatment is unlikely to cause side effects in recommended doses but even a small overdose can cause serious problems.

Seek medical advice if taking paracetamol for longer than three days.


Ibuprofen is another common painkiller and part of a group of medicines called NSAIDs or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.

These are used to treat pain and inflammation. They should not be taken for long periods of time, unless advised by a healthcare professional.

Side effects include stomach upsets, bleeding, kidney and heart problems.

Other NSAIDs include diclofenac and naproxen and may be recommended after an injury or for arthritis.


Aspirin is another type of NSAID and is often recommended for headaches, toothache or period pain. It should never be given to under 16s.


Codeine is often used in combination with paracetamol in a single medicine as tablets or to be dissolved in water.

Paracetamol and low-dose codeine is known as co-codamol and is available over the counter from pharmacies. Higher doses of codeine are available on prescription.

Codeine-containing medicines should not be given to children under 12 years old. Codeine should only be given to children over 12 for short-term moderate pain, at the lowest possible dose and only if it cannot be relieved by other painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen.

Codeine painkillers can cause dependency.

Amitriptyline and gabapentin

For pain caused by damaged nerves or sensitivity linked to nerve problems, such as shingles or neuropathy, medication that's also used for epilepsy and depression may be recommended.

Amitriptyline is a depression treatment and gabapentin is an epilepsy drug that may be prescribed for nerve pain.


Morphine and similar treatments, including oxycodone, fentanyl and buprenorphine, are very strong painkillers prescribed by GPs or pain specialists. The delivery of the painkiller may be in different forms, including wearing medicated patches.

Reviewed on May 12 2017


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Published on June 29, 2015

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