Paracetamol found to be useless for most pain conditions

Apr 06, 2021
Researchers have looked into the effectiveness of paracetamol. Source: Getty.

Paracetamol is the most commonly used painkiller in Australia, with people using medications such as Panadol for everything from back pain to headaches. A new medical review has found, however, that the common over-the-counter drug may be no better than a placebo for many commonly held conditions.

In a review published in The Medical Journal of Australia on Monday, researchers from the University of Sydney looked at the “efficacy and safety of paracetamol for pain relief”. To do this, they examined its effectiveness in treating 44 pain conditions, and discovered only knee and hip osteoarthritis, tension headache, pain after craniotomy and perineal pain after childbirth were receptive to the drug.

“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,” the study said. “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.”

In comparison, they found that it was ineffective for treating acute lower back pain. The researchers also found that there’s low-quality evidence to suggest paracetamol is any better than a placebo when it came to relieving the pain of a sore throat in people with common colds, relieving migraines in children and adolescents, and pain after dental surgery in children.

There was also very low-quality evidence available on its effectiveness for a number of conditions, such as chronic low back pain, post‐caesarean delivery pain, rheumatoid arthritis, hip fracture and cardiac surgery.

“Evidence for the efficacy of paracetamol in most pain conditions is of low quality or inconclusive, and for the four conditions for which there is high or moderate-quality evidence of efficacy, the benefits are small,” the study said.

The study came to the conclusion that large, high-quality trials were needed “to reduce uncertainty about the efficacy of paracetamol for relieving common pain conditions”. “Available evidence is largely derived from trials that evaluated the effects of single doses; investigations of multiple dose regimens, reflecting usual practice, are needed,” the study said.

The study added that for some long-term conditions, such as osteoarthritis, long-term efficacy and safety should also be re-evaluated and updated.

“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,” the study concluded. “Although some trials have evaluated regimens that may have underestimated its utility, the clinical application of paracetamol is primarily guided by low-quality evidence, at best.”

IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.

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