November 17, 2017
2 min read

AGA campaign aims to educate patients on GI risks of OTC pain meds

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Charles M. Wilcox, MD
Charles M. Wilcox

The American Gastroenterological Association created the Gut Check: Know Your Medicine campaign to help educate patients on how to safely use over-the-counter pain medication and avoid the health risks associated with them, according to a recent brief put forth by the organization.

“Patients often look for fast, simple solutions when it comes to their pain management and may be overlooking important health risks associated with taking too much over-the-counter pain medicine,” Charles M. Wilcox, MD, professor of medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and chair of the Gut Check: Know Your Medicine campaign told Healio Gastroenterology and Liver Disease. “The harsh reality is, many of the side effects of taking too much over-the-counter pain medicine — stomach bleeding, ulcers, and damage to the intestines — could have easily been prevented had patients followed the medicine label and not exceeded the recommended dose.”

Through this educational campaign, the AGA hopes to reduce the number of preventable health complications and deaths associated with overdosing on over-the-counter (OTC) pain medication.

According to the brief, gastroenterologists see increasing numbers of patients who experience problems from OTC pain medication overdose, with many presenting with stomach ulcers, stomach bleeding and damage to the esophagus.

An AGA survey found that patients are risking overdose complications because they don’t read the labels on medications or talk to their health care professional (HCP) before taking them to relieve their pain. Gastroenterologists see 90 overdose cases yearly due to OTC pain medication overdose symptoms and 90% believe their patients need better education on how to use these medicines safely, according to the survey.

Of 39% of people in the U.S. who admit taking over the recommended dose of OTC pain relievers, 32% did so because they felt confident in managing their medication and 73% did so mistakenly thinking it would make them feel better faster, according to the AGA brief. Additionally, those who suffer from chronic pain and depression, and women may be at higher risk for overdose.

In light of this growing problem, AGA recommends that collaboration between patients and HCPs to manage all medicines, better discussion and earlier intervention are crucial to develop safe OTC use practices. AGA advises all HCPs to actively educate patients about safe use and discuss all prescription and nonprescription medicine usage — along with patient’s current health situation, age, medical history and use of other medications — so the patient can work together with the HCP to find the best OTC medicine for their situation.


When instructing patients on avoiding OTC drug-related overdose, AGA advises the HCP should:

  • encourage them to read and follow all medication labels;
  • educate them on the two main types of oral OTC pain relievers and on not taking two products containing the same type of active ingredient simultaneously;
  • ask about all prescription and nonprescription medicine they take;
  • help choose the best products for them at that time; and
  • start the discussion on safe OTC medicine use at every visit.

“As health-care professionals, we need to remember our responsibility in helping patients safely manage their pain — and that includes taking time to discuss not only their prescription medicines, but also their over-the-counter pain medicines,” Wilcox said in an interview. “It’s up to us to start the dialogue with our patients and aid them in choosing the products that work for their current health situation, age and medical history. By educating patients on the safe ways to use over-the-counter pain medicines, we can help them avoid overdose.” – by Savannah Demko

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Disclosures: Wilcox serves as a chair to the Gut Check: Know Your Medicine campaign and receives honorarium from the AGA for his role as an adviser. The campaign was developed with support provided by Johnson & Johnson Consumer Inc., McNeil Consumer Healthcare Division, which manufactures over-the-counter pain medicines.