Over-the-counter painkillers may relieve your pain but they could also affect how your brain processes information and how you experience hurt feelings, and react to emotionally evocative images, research has found.
“Consumers assume that when they take an over-the-counter pain medication, it will relieve their physical symptoms, but they do not anticipate broader psychological effects,” said Kyle Ratner, a psychology and brain science researcher at the University of California, Santa Barbara, reported agencies.
The study, published in the journal Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences, says that over-the-counter pain medicines may influence individuals’ sensitivity to emotionally painful experiences, ability to empathise with the pain of others, reactions to emotional objects, ability to process information and discomfort from parting with possessions.
Compared to those who took placebos, women who took a dose of ibuprofen reported less hurt feelings from emotionally painful experiences, such as being excluded from a game or writing about a time when they were betrayed. However, men showed the opposite pattern.
Individuals who took a dose of acetaminophen were less emotionally distressed while reading about a person experiencing physical or emotional pain and felt less regard for the person, as compared to those taking placebos.
In addition, individuals who took a dose of acetaminophen made more errors of omission in a game where they were asked, at various times, either to perform or to not perform a task.
Individuals who took a dose of acetaminophen rated pleasant and unpleasant photographs less extremely than those who took placebos, researchers said.
When asked to set a selling price on an object they owned, individuals who took a dose of acetaminophen set prices that were cheaper than the prices set by individuals who took placebos.
“In many ways, the reviewed findings are alarming,” researchers wrote in the study.
While the medicine could have new potential for helping people deal with pain, more research is needed to examine the efficacy and determine if it would have negative effects for people who take it in combination with other medicines or who are depressed and have difficulty feeling pleasure, the researchers said.