MOST people have taken paracetamol at some point, whether it’s for a headache or back pain.
But researchers have now revealed that the drug could be no more effective than a placebo pill for common injuries and illnesses.
Experts in Australia found that the common pain killer is most ineffective when taken for acute back pain.
Writing in the Medical Journal of Australia, researchers based at the University of Sydney said that symptoms from just a handful of ailments were alleviated after taking paracetamol.
The experts stated: “While paracetamol is widely used, its efficacy in relieving pain has been established for only a handful of conditions, and its benefits are often modest.
“High or moderate quality evidence that paracetamol (typically 0.5–1g, single or multiple doses) is superior to placebo for relieving pain was available for only four of 44 painful conditions examined.”
The experts reviewed the effects of paracetamol compared to a placebo drug on 50 different common pain conditions.
Of the 50 different common conditions it found that knee and hip osteoarthritis, tension headaches, craniotomy (where bone is removed from the skull) and perineal pain after childbirth were receptive to the drug.
What are the side effects of paracetamol
Paracetamol rarely causes side effects when taken in the right doses, but the NHS says it can cause:
- An allergic reaction which can cause a rash and swelling
- Flushing, low blood pressure and a fast heartbeat – this can sometimes happen when paracetamol is given in hospital into a vein in your arm
- Blood disorders, such as thrombocytopenia and leukopenia
- Liver and kidney damage, if you take too much – this can be fatal in severe cases
The experts stated that the finding were “insufficient” when it comes to determining whether or not paracetamol helps when it comes to other common pains.
This included pains associated with dental procedures, childhood ear infections, back pain, stomach pain, colds, headaches and post-operative pains.
Study author Dr Christina Abdel Shaheed said paracetamol does work better for tension headaches in comparison to placebo drugs, “but for most other conditions we simply lack the evidence to be able to make strong or definitive statements about paracetamol’s effectiveness.”
The NHS states that paracetamol can be used to treat aches and pains as well as to reduce a high temperature.
But the authors of the study have suggested that doctors should stop prescribing the painkillers for back pain.
They stated: “Back pain guidelines should stop recommending paracetamol.
“About 50 per cent of back pain guidelines still recommend paracetamol, even though we now know it is ineffective for back pain.
“Our review highlights the need for large, high quality trials to reduce uncertainty about the efficacy of paracetamol for relieving common pain conditions.”