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Over-the-counter pain meds--not always so harmless.

When your knee aches, what do you grab? For most runners, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are the drugs of choice to deal with sports-related pain. However, the risk of significant gastrointestinal side effects may shift your reach to acetaminophen (Tylenol, and others). Most of us perceive acetaminophen to be an absolutely benign, baby-safe choice for mild pain. But take heed--acetaminophen can pack a deadly punch, especially if taken along with almost any amount of alcohol or if inadvertently taken in overly high doses.

Acetaminophen is an analgesic (pain reliever) and an antipyretic (fever-reducer), but it does not reduce inflammation. Almost all medications deliver their effective medication to the body after being screened through the liver. In the case of acetaminophen, metabolism of the drug produces a small amount of toxic waste that remains in the liver. Ordinary doses of acetaminophen result in inconsequential amounts of this byproduct. However, certain circumstances can overwhelm the liver's ability to keep toxic levels safe. When too much is taken (more than four grams a day) or for too many days, or when taken in combination with almost any amount of alcohol, potentially liver-damaging amounts can result.

Even moderate drinkers are potentially at risk, and while there is still controversy among experts, conservative recommendations are to avoid using acetaminophen if you consume alcohol daily. Alcohol also increases the risk of gastrointestinal bleeding with NSAIDs. Your best bet is to forgo alcohol during episodes of injury, fever, or pain if you need pain or fever relief.

(American Journal of Managed Care, 2001, Vol. 7, No. 19, S597-601; Journal of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, 2000, Vol. 5, No. 2, pp. 137-142; Postgraduate Medicine, 2000, Vol. 107, No. 1, pp. 189-195; Archives of Internal Medicine, 2001. Vol. 161, No. 18, pp. 2247-2252)
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Title Annotation:health news
Publication:Running & FitNews
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2002
Words:293
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