Western Wisconsin

The real risk of over-the-counter pain relievers
Ladies, keep stress in check for your health
Join us for a fun-filled evening at Miracle Fest 2014

The real risk of over-the-counter pain relievers

Stress at the office has given you a headache. You have a fever and feel achy all over. Training for a marathon makes that pain in your leg worse. What do you do?

The answer in each case is probably to pop a pill. And you may have a favorite over-the-counter (OTC) pain reliever, whether it’s aspirin, Tylenol®, Advil® or Aleve®. The pills are readily available, inexpensive and widely used. How could they be dangerous?

"Generally, they are not dangerous," said Peter Gintner, PA-C, a physician assistant with Ministry Medical Group in Thorp. "But if you pop these pills frequently, you should know about their potential risks as well as their benefits."

Take the right medicine for your pain

Whatever your problem may be, any of these OTC pain relievers will probably do the job of making you feel better or reducing a fever. You should understand, though, that there are two basic types of over-the-counter pain relievers.

Acetaminophen (Tylenol) works through the brain and central nervous system to reduce pain and fever. It has no effect, however, on inflammation – the swelling, redness or stiffness caused by a injury or arthritis.

Nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil), naproxen (Aleve) and ketoprofen (Orudis) are, as their name implies, anti-inflammatory medications.

NSAIDs work by slowing the production of prostaglandins, which are the substances that activate pain receptors. The same prostaglandins that are involved in producing inflammation, however, also protect the stomach and kidneys. If taken on a regular basis, all NSAIDs create a risk of potentially fatal gastrointestinal bleeding.

Generally, ibuprofen, naproxen and ketoprofen are more powerful than other pain relievers in their effect, but aspirin is the only NSAID known to help prevent heart attacks.

Acetaminophen is the safest pain and fever remedy for children since aspirin increases the risk of Reyes Syndrome in children under 16 who have chickenpox or flu symptoms.

Take medication as directed

No matter what drug you’re taking, it’s crucial to read and follow the label instructions relating to the dosage: how much you should take and how often. If the drug is recommended by your doctor, follow instructions carefully.

Studies show that more than 30 percent of Americans take more than the recommended dose of OTC pain relievers, thinking a larger dose will work more quickly or effectively. That is not necessarily the case.

NSAID-related bleeding in the stomach or gastrointestinal tract is responsible for 16,500 deaths and more than 107,000 hospitalizations each year in the United States. Some people have a higher than average risk of bleeding because of age or chronic medical conditions.

While acetaminophen may be easier on the stomach and intestines, taking a pill daily for a year or more increases your risk of kidney damage. And taking even moderate amounts – equal to those recommended on the label – can cause liver failure if you have three or more alcoholic drinks a day.

If you drink regularly, NSAIDs might be a better choice but still not risk-free since both alcohol and NSAIDs have a tendency to irritate the stomach lining.

Avoiding getting too much of an OTC pain reliever becomes particularly tricky during cold and flu season. Commonly used remedies have a variety of ingredients, usually including at least one and possibly several pain relievers. Nyquil, for example, contains not just a cough suppressant and antihistamine but 1,000 milligrams of acetaminophen per adult dose. So, if you take Nyquil along with two extra-strength Tylenol capsules, tablets or caplets, you’re doubling up the acetaminophen dose without knowing it.

There are some specific risks of over-the-counter medications

For marathon runners and other athletes battling soft tissue injuries, anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen and naproxen are obvious choices. Frequent or preventive use, however, raises several red flags.

Because of the risk of kidney damage, it’s important not to use an NSAID any time you are dehydrated or could become dehydrated – a common occurrence after an endurance event or even a training run.

Women who are pregnant or nursing a child should not take any type of pain reliever without first consulting a health professional. NSAIDs taken during the final trimester, in particular, could cause problems for the unborn child.

If you suffer with high blood pressure, you should talk to your doctor before using OTC pain relievers. NSAIDs may make your hypertension medication less effective and put you at risk of other cardiovascular problems.

"There are many other reasons to think twice before popping a pain reliever," said Gintner. "They are medicine and, as such, should be taken seriously."

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Ladies, keep stress in check for your health

Stress often defines the lives of modern women: tight deadlines, demands at work, traffic jams, children needing help with homework, housework, making meals and paying bills.

These are just some of the many tasks that today’s women may face on a daily basis. Often these responsibilities do not complement each other and can lead to chronic stress in a woman’s life.

"Stress triggers the release of hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, leading to a heightened state of alertness and what has become known as the ‘fight or flight’ response," said Betsy Wacker, PA-C, a physician assistant with Ministry Medical Group in Stanley. "Researchers have concluded that women who feel attacked by stress are more likely to ‘tend and befriend’ rather than ‘fight or flee.’ Their tendency is to protect their children and to seek help from others, often from other females."

That response that makes sense in terms of family preservation. Researchers also believe biology has an impact on the way stress hormones and sex hormones interact.

While women may be able to manage the short-term pressures effectively, chronic stress is another matter. "Day-in, day-out stress causes inflammatory chemicals to be released into our systems on a continuing basis," said Wacker. "This sets us up for a number of serious health problems. High circulating levels of cortisol and adrenaline increase blood pressure, pulse and breathing rates. Over time, this can take a toll on the heart and cardiovascular system."

According to Wacker, chronic stress also suppresses the immune system, making us more susceptible to colds and other illnesses. Stress is also believed to play a role in Crohn’s disease, an inflammatory bowel condition. As stress causes blood glucose levels to rise, it sets the stage for the development of diabetes.

High stress levels can also interfere with sleep, and increase rates of depression and anxiety-related disorders. All too many women are familiar with the concept of stress-induced headaches that can range from everyday tension headaches to migraines.

Women need to control the stress that we cannot avoid

For most women, the elimination of stress is not an option; for some it may be possible to make strategic changes that can decrease the stress load.

Betsy says that the stress we can’t avoid we must learn to control. "Most problems result from our physiological reaction to external events. It’s not the event itself that causes harm but the tense muscles and rapid breathing that represent our response."

The key is to unlock the relaxation response, which is the opposite of the stress response. Meditation, yoga, relaxation exercises and slow breathing exercises can all lead to relaxation, slowing down the heart and breathing rates. As that happens, the rate of oxygen consumption drops, blood lactate levels fall, cortisol and blood glucose levels drop and blood pressure becomes lower.

Proponents of yoga and meditation have long known the power of the mind-body connection and the way we can use these disciplines to gain a sense of harmony and control.

But if even the thought of having to find time to squeeze a class into your schedule is enough to trigger a stress response, don’t panic. It’s possible to learn slow breathing and muscle relaxation techniques that you can practice in traffic jams, grocery store lines, when the kids are being difficult or during stress-filled meetings at work.

Women who develop coping responses become more resilient. Wacker encourages women to think of developing a coping response as developing one’s own Teflon coating. Resilience makes it possible to keep things in perspective; it helps us avoid seeing every bump in the road as a catastrophe.

"One way to keep the daily stressors in perspective is to take the long view," said Wacker. "How important will this problem seem when I look back on it two years from now? If the answer is ‘very,’ then you need to develop an action plan that will help you deal with problem. If the answer is ‘not very’ – which is true for most of our daily stressors – then you need to take care of the problem calmly, practice your relaxation response, and not allow yourself to become stressed by the situation."

Stress is a reality of our modern lives. If we can’t eliminate it, we have to learn to live with it without allowing it to control our lives.

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Join us for a fun-filled evening at Miracle Fest 2014

An evening of fun, food and fellowship awaits you on Thursday, April 24 at the Hotel Marshfield in Marshfield.

The evening will start with cocktails, hors d’oeurvres and a silent auction followed by a program featuring the Children’s Miracle Network and auction.

One highlight of the evening will be the comedic talents of John Bush. Bush has developed a reputation for "marvelous, side splitting, and goofy performances" that will leave you wanting more. It’s a performance not to be missed.

Early bird tickets will be available for $35 until March 14. After that date the ticket price will be $40.

Child Life Program at Ministry Saint Joseph’s Children’s Hospital and Marshfield Clinic Children’s through Children’s Miracle Network.

 

For more information or to purchase a ticket, call 715.389.3955.

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