For some reason doctors and patients seem to think that pain medications treat pain and inflammation. The fact is that they relieve pain. This seems like a subtle difference, but by a slight shift in attitude we can cut our health care costs.

An advertisement for a popular pain medication touts that taking it before intense physical activity to reduce the amount of pain caused by the activity. There are some problems with this thinking. Pain medications actually increase oxidative stress, so while they offer temporary relief, they actually promote an environment that favors pain and inflammation. NSAIDs can actually cause cartilage to break down, increasing the potential for injury. So many people take medication for arthritis pain, but they are trading short-term relief for long-term degeneration. One of the popular pain medications (classified as a Cox-2 inhibitor) actually doubles the chance of getting a heart attack.

Also, pain medications can lead to a host of other health problems. According to the July 27, 1998 issue of the American Journal of Medicine: “Conservative calculations estimate that approximately 107,000 patients are hospitalized annually for nosteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID)-related gastrointestinal (GI) complications and at least 16,500 NSAID-related deaths occur each year among arthritis patients alone. The figures for all NSAID users would be overwhelming, yet the scope of this problem is generally under appreciated”

The New England Journal of Medicine (December 20, 2001;345:1801-1808) published research that linked pain medication to kidney failure (in patients with existing kidney disease). An article published in the New York Times (January 29, 2002) covers concern of NBA players over the regular use of these medications. This is in the wake of Alanzo Mourning of the Miami Heat developing a kidney disorder and Sean Elliot needing a kidney transplant. Basketball players commonly take large amounts of NSAIDs before a game.

Taking pain medication can have an adverse effect on the cardiovascular system. According to the Archives of Internal Medicine (February 11, 2002;162:265-270),

patients who had filled at least one NSAID prescription were nearly 10 times more likely than those who didn’t use the drugs to have a relapse of CHF. According to research published in the Archives of Internal Medicine (October 28, 2002;162:2204-2208), frequent use of pain-relief medications may result in an increased-risk of high blood pressure in women.

The cavalier attitude our medical system has in treating one of the most common conditions, pain, can lead to further health complications and cost. How much more are we spending on health care because we don’t choose natural methods for pain control first?