Killer painkillers? It’s become a genuine concern with doctors and patients alike, thanks to recent research on the harmful side effects of common pain medications. In fact, even mild, over-the-counter drugs, like Ibuprofen, may cause serious damage to the stomach, kidneys, and heart –no doubt more painful than the headache or sprained ankle you hoped to cure. But a recent medical breakthrough – skin patches – might allow doctors to avoid these health hazards. The solution is simple – find a different path to pain management.
Medicines that are applied directly to the skin can treat painful conditions like arthritis, tendonitis, and neuropathy without the inconvenience of hourly pill-popping or the risk of bodily harm.
Skin Patches on the Market Today
One of the newest topical treatments to hit the market was Pensaid Topical Solution, which has proven to be especially effective in treating osteoarthritis. Featuring the drug Diclofenac, the solution passes through the skin directly to the source of pain. Diclofenac then shuts down the body’s cyclo-oxygenase (COX), a substance that responds to pain by spreading swelling and inflammation-causing chemicals. Due to the great results seen with the Pensaid solution, other Diclofenac-based drugs and COX inhibitors have been slated for FDA approval. Products like Voltaren gel which also has Diclofenac are soon to released again here in the United States.
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Some patients can also find relief with the help of new 8% patches like Qutenza, which contains the drug capsaicin. The chemical which gives chili peppers their spicy taste, Capsaicin has long been recognized as a natural pain reliever and has been used in over-the-counter products for years. The Qutenza patch, however, is the first and only product to contain prescription-strength capsaicin, making it an effective treatment for postherpetic neuralgia (PHN), a condition associated with shingles.
The patch is incredibly effective, offering up to 12 weeks of reduced pain after a single one-hour application – it’s cheap, effective, and convenient. Other options include Butrans, which contains the drug buprenorphine. It helps by balancing the brain’s opioid receptors; this removes the up-and-down effects commonly felt by patients taking pain pills, increasing their medication’s potency and effectiveness for up to 7 days.
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Until recently, pain relief drugs came with serious side effects, making them much more painful than pain-relieving. But with the help of new skin-based treatments, like Diclofenac, COX inhibitors, and the 8% patch, the prognosis looks good for patients with chronic pain. These drugs can treat conditions like arthritis and neuralgia quicker and cheaper than ever before, and with none of the debilitating side effects.
Dr. Moshe Lewis is the head of Alternative Health and Pain Management at St Lukes Hospital in San Francisco, CA, and co-host of Late Night Health, a wellness-oriented radio talk show.