COPD & Over-The-Counter Pain Meds

“Several studies have found high rates of pain medication use among COPD patients, and pain has also been an important determinant of overall health status and quality of life in COPD,” senior research associate, Melissa Roberts at the Lovelace Clinic Foundation in Albuquerque, NM, said in an American Thoracic Society news release.

Researchers determined pain levels among study participants by reviewing diagnostic codes and pain medication prescriptions in their medical records. Studies found that COPD patients have more indicators of chronic pain and use more prescription pain medications than patients without chronic disease.

“We found the prevalence of chronic pain among adults with chronic disease to be almost twice as high as among individuals without chronic disease,” Roberts said. “Among those with chronic disease, individuals with COPD were similar to those with rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis in their experience of pain, but with even greater use of opioids.”

What about over-the-counter meds?

COPD is a lung disease, and although it doesn’t cause lung pain directly, it can cause chest pain due to factors such as coughing. Pain management can be overlooked for reasons such as a patient’s reluctance to adequately communicate their pain or due to all-too-common financial constraints on acquiring pain meds.

If you find you need to take over-the-counter meds to manage COPD-related pain, there are basically two types of over-the-counter pain relievers – acetaminophen and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).


Acetaminophen is an active ingredient in more than 600 medicines, including pain relievers, cough suppressants and cold medications. It’s important to understand that taking a higher dose than recommended will not provide more relief and can be dangerous.

Acetaminophen overdose can lead to liver damage and death. Risk for liver damage may be increased in people who drink three or more alcoholic beverages a day while using acetaminophen-containing medicines. Read and follow the directions on the label every time you use a medicine.


NSAIDs are common medications used to relieve minor aches and pains and to reduce fever. They include aspirin, naproxen, and ibuprofen and many medicines taken for colds, sinus pressure and allergies. NSAIDs act by inhibiting an enzyme that helps make a specific chemical.

NSAID overdose can cause stomach bleeding. This risk is higher in people who are over 60 years old, taking prescription blood thinners or steroids, have a history of stomach bleeding or ulcers and/or have other bleeding problems.

Using NSAIDs can cause reversible kidney damage. This risk may also increase in people over 60, in those taking a diuretic (a drug that increases the excretion of urine), and people with high blood pressure, heart disease, or pre-existing kidney disease.

Using over-the-counter pain meds too often can make your body immune to their effects. For this reason, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) advises against taking pain relievers more than twice per week. If you’re in constant or excessive pain associated with COPD, ask your physician about pain management.

Alternative Methods for Alleviating Pain

  • Practice breathing exercises (meditation, yoga)
  • Drink peppermint tea
  • Get more sleep
  • Avoid sleeping in
  • Exercise regularly
  • Avoid COPD triggers (smoke, chemicals, dust)

Always consult your doctor to find a treatment plan that will work best for you.