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Acetaminophen is one of the most effective non-prescription drugs available to treat pain. It does not reduce swelling (inflammation), which aspirin does. However, it is a painkiller. It works by switching off the brain's perception of pain. Additionally, it has few side effects, is not habit-forming and doesn't upset the stomach.
Since acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) work differently, the two medications can be taken at the same time. Some narcotics are blended with acetaminophen because the combination of the two relieves pain more effectively than each type of drug does alone. This means that lower levels can be taken. Be sure to check for acetaminophen in other drugs that you are taking so as not to exceed safe levels of acetaminophen.
Another new type of pain reliever is tramadol (Ultram®). It acts in the brain to change the sensation of pain. Like acetaminophen, it has no anti-inflammatory effect. Tramadol is stronger than acetaminophen, but not as strong as the narcotics. A relatively new drug, tramadol is still quite expensive and is not covered by some health plans. It has several potential side effects and risks including interaction with other drugs, risks to women who are pregnant and the need to take increasingly higher levels as the body builds up a tolerance for the drug.