Side Effects of Common Over-the-Counter Pain Relievers

Posted Sunday, Jan 12, 2014 by Allen B. Ury

As a professional pharmacy technician, you will have to warn customers about the possible side effects of the prescription drugs you give them. But over-the-counter (OTC) drugs — those you can buy without a prescription — have side effects, too. And some of these side effects can be just as harmful as those that come with taking prescription medications.

Pharmacy techs need to be aware of these OTC side effects so they can properly advise customers about what products to buy to deal with common health problems.

The OTC Pain Relief Industry

 Analgesics — pain relievers we take for headaches, muscle aches, inflammation and fever — are a $3.9 billion-a-year industry in the U.S. alone, according to A.C. Nielsen and the Consumer Healthcare Products Association (CHPA).[1] Top sellers include brand names like Bayer, Tylenol, Advil, Motrin and Excedrin, as well as their generic equivalents.

Most people take these drugs liberally. They believe that, since they don’t require a prescription, they’re perfectly safe when taken in recommended doses. But even relatively low-strength analgesics can pose serious health risks to some people.

Here are the most common types of OTC pain relievers and the possible side effects they can cause:



Aspirin has been a popular pain reliever since the early 20th century. Technically acetylsalicylic acid, it’s sold today under such names as Bayer, St. Joseph, Bufferin and Ecotrin. Common side effects include stomach pains, heartburn, dizziness and constipation. Long-term use can lead to ulcers and kidney and liver damage. Aspirin can be particular dangerous to hemophiliacs (it’s a blood thinner), diabetics, and people taking prednisone or blood pressure medications.



This was the first of the popular “non-aspirin” pain relievers to hit the market in the mid-1950s. It’s known to most people as Tylenol, a brand name, but it’s also widely available in generic form. If people combine regular acetaminophen use (eight or more pills per day) with regular alcohol use (more than seven drinks per week), it can cause liver damage. Acetaminophen overdoses can also occur as the result of taking Tylenol (or its generic equivalent) with other products that contain acetaminophen, such as Nyquil, Benadryl Allergy/Cold and such prescription drugs as Vicodin or Percocet.



This pain reliever is mostly used to address muscle aches and body pains. Unlike aspirin or acetaminophen, it does not reduce fevers. It’s sold under such brand names as Advil and Motrin. Common side effects include gas, bloating, stomach pains, heartburn, dizziness and constipation. Prolonged use can cause ulcers, kidney and liver damage. In rare cases, it’s also been known to cause strokes and heart attacks. Ibuprofen is particular bad for people with hypertension (high blood pressure), ulcers, diabetes and bleeding problems.



This is the “all-day” pain reliever sold as Aleve. It’s good for fever, inflammation, joint pain and as a prophylactic before having dental work. Like most of the drugs above, its side effects can include stomach pain, heartburn, dizziness and constipation. Long-term use can lead to high blood pressure, ulcers, and kidney and liver damage. Naproxen should not be taken with milk or milk products, since the combination can increase stomach acid production and make stomach aches worse.

The Pharmacy Tech Program at Everest

Common medications, its benefits and side effects are just a small part of the education you’ll get in Everest’s Pharmacy Technician career training program. Other topics you’ll have an opportunity to study include:

  • Pharmacy administration
  • Pharmaceutical calculations
  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Digestive, respiratory and reproductive systems
  • Medical terminology
  • Pharmacology
  • Health care systems

For more information on Everest’s Pharmacy Technician career education program at a campus near you, contact Everest today.

Financial aid is available for those who qualify.

[1] Source:

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