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Do you have a headache? Take water and rest

 Not all headaches require you to take a painkiller (Image: Shutterstock)

A slight headache from lack of enough water or sleep has some people rushing for painkillers which experts warn have long term effects on health.

Dr Daniel Muli, a medical researcher, says the effects depend on specific category and dosage for example paracetamol may not have negative major side effects compared to other more controlled categories containing aspirin and codeine.

“Overuse of aspirin and other aspirin-like painkillers can cause gastric ulcers when used in high doses for a long time,” says Dr Muli.

Dr Kinyua Muriithi, a pharmacist, says category of painkillers containing codeine are stronger than others as codeine is an opiate and prodrug of morphine used to treat pain, coughing and diarrhea, but can be very addictive.

“Codeine is closely related to morphine or heroine which excites them the same way as the person abusing heroine and so some become addicted, and will always be looking for that ‘high,’” says Dr Muriithi, adding that when abused painkillers containing codeine interfere with normal breathing and can cause death when taken in large doses.

Some muscle relaxants alleviate pain and when taken to cure a headache or stomachache “causes drowsiness and can result in an accident if the person is driving motor vehicles or machinery,” Dr Muriithi says.

Dr Muriithi is for non-drug treatment: “If you have a headache, try to take a lot of water and rest, if necessary take mild painkillers but seek advice for strong ones and don’t self-medicate.”

Some Kenyans take sleeping pills instead of painkillers, yet according to Dr Muriithi, sleep-inducing drugs are prescription medicines regulated under Narcotics, Drugs and Psychotropic Substances law.

Abusing painkillers is made worse during surgery as such a patient will require frequent and higher dosing than the standard opioid doses for age and weight, says Dr Charles Lelei, a consultant anesthesiologist, explaining that “we tailor-make the anesthesia to ensure they undergo surgery safely and in a pain-free manner.”

Dr Charles Lelei says patients weaned of such drugs should disclose the info to avoid a relapse if exposed to the drugs and “in such cases, we use other modes of pain management that avoids opioids or use opioids with the least potential for addiction.”

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