TIME Drugs

It’s Easy to Overdose on Tylenol, Study Warns

Tylenol Pills Spilling Out Of Bottle
Shelley Dennis—Getty Images

A new analysis from Consumer Reports calls out the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for inconsistent and potentially dangerous labeling of acetaminophen painkillers

The rise in prescriptions and non-prescription use of painkillers in the U.S. is no secret – in the past decade, prescriptions for opioids have skyrocketed by 300%, making them the most prescribed drugs in the country.

And the consequences of that spike can be deadly, according to the latest report from Consumer Reports: nearly 17,000 people die each year from overdosing on painkillers.

Equally alarming is the rise in other popular painkillers that also have over-the-counter (OTC) versions. Acetaminophen, which includes Tylenol and other generic brands, causes more than 80,000 emergency room visits each year because people often aren’t aware they’re taking too much. The drug is found in more than 600 over-the-counter and prescription medications, such as allergy and cold remedies and sleep aids.

To address the potential for accidental overdose of acetaminophen, the FDA asked physicians earlier this year to stop prescribing more than 325mg of acetaminophen to patients, noting that there isn’t evidence that higher doses provide any additional benefit for relieving pain and that high levels of the drug are linked to liver damage. But the warning did not apply to OTC versions of the drug, which account for 80% of acetaminophen use in the U.S., and are still available in higher doses.

MORE: Tylenol and Panadol Prove No Better Than Placebo at Helping Back Pain

The Consumer Report authors also say that OTC drugs have inconsistent advice about how much acetaminophen is too much for people to take in a day. “We found recommendations varying from 1,000mg per day in some nighttime pain relievers to 3,900 milligrams in some products that combine acetaminophen with allergy drugs or cold and flu drugs. We think the labeled daily limit should be no more than 3,250 milligrams,” they write.

Regarding opioids, the authors call for the FDA to reconsider its December 2013 approval of Zohydro ER, a long-acting version of hydrocodone, over concerns that longer-acting forms are more likely to be misused and abused and don’t show any clear pain-killing benefit over shorter-acting medications. They advise doctors to consider starting their patients who need pain relief with short-acting opioids first, to better gauge whether these forms can provide enough pain relief.

For consumers, the report urges people taking opioids or acetaminophen to ask for and expect regular monitoring of their pain and other symptoms. If the pain isn’t going away, then continuing to take the medications isn’t going to help, and will only expose you to potentially harmful side effects.

TIME Drugs

FDA Approves New Pain Pill Designed To Be Hard to Abuse

The FDA has been under growing pressure to fight the national epidemic of prescription opioid abuse

The Food and Drug Administration approved on Wednesday a new pain pill that was created to discourage abuse, the Associated Press reports.

The new pill, Targiniq ER, combines oxycodone, a potentially addictive opioid used in many pain medications, with naloxone, often used to trim the effects of opioids. The naloxone isn’t activated if the pill is swallowed as normal. If a would-be drug abuser crushes the pill to snort or inject it, however, the naloxone activates. That can potentially make Targiniq ER less attractive to abusers.

“Targiniq ER has properties that are expected to deter, but not totally prevent, abuse of the drug by snorting and injection,” FDA said in a statement.

TIME Pain

Achy Back? Don’t Blame the Weather

Changes in the weather don’t cause back pain, say researchers.

Some people insist they know when it’s going to rain because they can “feel” it in their bones. Or their knees start aching. Or their back. Their explanation? They’re more attuned to changes in air pressure, precipitation, and the like. But a new study reveals that might be nothing more than magical thinking.

Researchers in Australia put to the test the idea that weather triggers back pain. They recruited 993 people who saw doctors because of low back pain and matched those visits to national meteorological data on temperature, humidity, air pressure, wind direction and precipitation. They also checked the same weather parameters one week and one month before the patients reported their pain. It turns out there was no statistically significant correlation between weather changes and back pain.

MORE: This Is the No. 1 Cause of Disability Worldwide

“We had an open mind on the issue,” Daniel Steffens, from the George Institute for Global Health at the University of Syndey, told TIME in an email. “We had heard many patients attribute their worsening pain to the weather, but we also knew there was limited research. In our very rigorous study we found no evidence that weather is associated with an increased risk of back pain.”

One of the strengths of the study, published in the journal Arthritis Care & Research, involved the fact that the same participants were evaluated during stable and changing weather, meaning that most of the other variables that could affect pain, such as people’s lifestyles, behaviors and genetics, remained the same.

MORE: Aching Back? Try Massage for Chronic Pain

So why do so many patients believe that weather affects their joints? Some studies have found an association between cold or humid conditions and people’s symptoms of chronic pain, but the reason for the link from a physiological point of view isn’t known.

Steffens and his colleagues aren’t discounting the potential role that weather could play. They admit that Sydney, where the study was conducted, is blessed with relatively temperate conditions.

But for now, it looks like back pain sufferers can’t blame the weather. Steffens notes that other factors, including the way people move and lift heavy objects, as well as stress and fatigue, may be more important for triggering aching backs.

TIME Research

How Men and Women Feel Pain Differently

Understanding how men and women feel feel pain is clouded by conflicting results and murky interpretations. While some work suggests that women feel more pain than men, other studies have found the opposite to be true. So which gender has the higher threshold? That depends on what’s hurting and how.

Dr. Andreas Sander-Kiesling, in the department of anesthesiology and intensive care at the Medical University of Graz in Austria, reviewed records of more than 10,000 patients undergoing various surgeries over a two year period who were asked to rate their pain within 24 hours of their procedure. The men were 27% more likely to report feeling more pain after major operations such as heart and shoulder surgery, while women were more likely to show higher pain readings after relatively minor or routine ones such as biopsies and even abortions. Interestingly, women reported less pain after invasive procedures. Because the average age of the women was 58—post-menopause when estrogen, which can increase pain sensitivity, drops—that might in part explain the finding.

MORE: Men vs. Women on Pain: Who Hurts More?

Another factor could be psychological. Biopsies, for instance, are done to determine if suspicious growths are cancerous, or life-threatening, says Sandner-Kiesling, so the anxiety of worrying about cancer may be playing a role in how women perceive the relatively minor procedure. The same may apply to abortion, which can be fraught with emotional and psychological implications.

“We were hoping we could answer more about gender and pain,” says Sandner-Kiesling, “and in certain ways we did, and certain ways we did not. We found a [gender] difference but the difference may depend on the procedure. So the whole picture is still completely fuzzy and confusing.” Which means for the time being, at least, there won’t be male or female versions of pain-killing treatments, but if research continues to tease apart how and why men and women perceive pain in different ways, that may not be so far off.

TIME Exercise/Fitness

5 Drug-Free Home Remedies For Pain

Treat Aches and Pains at Home
PM Images—Getty Images

Feeling achy from a running injury? “Given time, your body will usually start to heal on its own,” says Lisa Callahan, MD, co-director of the Women’s Sports Medicine Center at the Hospital for Special Surgery, in New York City.

If the pain lasts for more than 10 to 14 days, or if it’s very sudden or severe (meaning you can’t walk without pain or it’s noticeably swollen), it’s time to visit a doctor. In the meantime, here are a few things you can do to help speed your recovery.

(Health.com: 11 Fitness Foods to Help You Get in Shape Faster)

Ice

Most injuries start with inflammation, so icing right away can help. Keep cooling sessions to no more than 20 minutes at a time to prevent frostbite or other skin damage.

(Health.com: 7 Running Injuries and How to Avoid Them)

Heat

If you’re still hurting after two or three days, try switching from ice to a heating pad, which will increase blood flow to the affected area and speed healing.

(Health.com: Exercises That Help Prevent Knee Pain)

Stretch

Once your pain is gone, gently take the muscles and joints through their full range of motion to reduce stiffness and aid in recovery. Stretch several times daily.

Tape

Kinesiology tape (KT) may reduce swelling, take pressure off overused muscles and cut pain. Research on its value is limited, notes Dr. Callahan, but if it seems to help you, stick with it.

(Health.com: 25 Exercises You Can Do Anywhere )

Cross-train

A running injury doesn’t have to mean a total break from exercise. Try doing some low-impact workouts (Spinning, swimming) to keep your fitness up while your body heals.

5 Ways to Treat Injuries and Speed Recovery originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME human behavior

The Study of Injured Squid Explains Human Irritability and Pain

A Bigfin reef squid swims in a display at the Monterey Bay Aquarium
Michael Fiala—Reuters

A study has found that squid that have one of their tentacles cut off react more strongly to visual stimuli. Researchers say that pain makes our peripheral sensory system become hyperactive, guarding us against further threats

When we are in pain, many of us become grumpy and irritable, and a study involving injured squid may explain why.

In the study, researchers found that squid that have one of their tentacles cut off — an injury that does not affect their ability to maneuver and would not be as serious an injury as losing a limb would be for a human — react more strongly to visual stimuli. The injury also increases the squid’s responsiveness to threats.

“The injured squid were really touchy,” Robyn Crook, an evolutionary neurobiologist at the University of Texas Medical School at Houston, which led the study, told the Los Angeles Times. “An encounter a normal squid might just want to keep an eye on caused the injured squid to start up their defense mechanisms.”

The squid’s behavior helps explain the grumpiness and irritability many of us experience when we are in pain, Edgar T. Walters, who studies pain and at the University of Texas Medical School at Houston, told the paper.

“One of the effects of pain is the peripheral sensory system becomes hyperactive,” he said.

“People in pain are very easily irritated and we found that this fits in with a primitive pattern designed for an animal to be extra-vigilant.”

TIME

Scary Health Symptoms You Can Relax About

It has been nearly 20 years since I officially practiced medicine, but my friends and family consider me their frontline medical adviser. In an age when it is hard to get a doctor on the phone and can be pricey to see one, I remain really good at screening symptoms. The vast majority of the time, I can assure people that their anxiety is unfounded. Of course, every once in a while, my advice is “Yikes, worry more!” Here are some common medical worries you can set aside—along with a little guidance on when you should indulge them.

Don’t worry about: A single elevated blood-pressure reading

The human body is constantly changing in response to an array of factors: stress, medications, what you eat, how you sleep. This is definitely true of blood pressure, particularly the top number in the blood-pressure measurement, the systolic blood pressure. In fact, there is a phenomenon called “white coat hypertension,” in which blood pressure goes up when the measurement is taken at the doctor’s office because you’re nervous about having it checked! A friend of mine was recently in the hospital, hooked up to a display that checked his blood pressure every 15 minutes, with tremendous variation. It nearly drove him crazy.

When to worry: If you get a high reading several times in a month, talk to your doctor; untreated high blood pressure can lead to heart disease and stroke. Extremely elevated blood pressure (systolic pressure over 180 or diastolic pressure over 110) is a medical emergency.

Health.com: 27 Mistakes Healthy People Make

Don’t worry about: A blood-test result that’s a little high or low

Even if the lab report says the number is out of normal range, that value is most likely normal for you. For his entire life, my husband has had a slightly low platelet count, but he has never had bleeding problems (platelets help with clot formation). No problem, no disease. Part of the reason a new doctor does routine blood work when you’re feeling good is so that she can learn what is typical for you.

Don’t worry about: Low blood pressure

You know the saying “You can never be too rich or too thin”? Low blood pressure is kind of like that. It puts less stress on your organs, so it’s generally considered a good thing.

When to worry: If low blood pressure leaves you feeling lightheaded or faint, or if you feel your heart fluttering, then you need to see a doctor.

Don’t worry about: A couple days of nausea, vomiting or diarrhea

People want to know if it’s food poisoning or a virus, but in terms of healing, it doesn’t really matter. If there is no intense abdominal pain, high fever or blood in your stool, your body will take care of it. The important thing is not to get dehydrated. I prefer that old favorite, flat ginger ale, but any clear liquid, like water or Gatorade, will do.

When to worry: If you feel faint or are vomiting up blood, get to the doctor.

Health.com: 15 Signs You May Have an Iron Deficiency

Don’t worry about: Painless lumps

As bodies age, they develop a wide variety of lumps. The overwhelming majority of them are not cancerous. The causes of lumps are so numerous that it is impossible to give a complete list here, but they range from benign cysts to fatty deposits under the skin (called lipomas). Make sure you show them to your doctor on your next visit, but try not to be too alarmed.

When to worry: Some lumps should be evaluated as soon as possible. Breast lumps should never be ignored. Lumps that are tender, warm and red could be from underlying infections that need treatment. Hard or fast-growing lumps should also be seen promptly.

Don’t worry about: Bleeding

In terms of species survival, it’s probably good that the sight of blood provokes panic. But most of us panic more than we should. Cuts on certain parts of the body, like the scalp, can bleed profusely, but that shouldn’t necessarily cause alarm. Put pressure on a cut for 5 to 10 minutes to see if you can get it to stop bleeding. If you can’t, or if the two sides of the slice seem widely separated, you may need stitches to help healing.

When to worry: If you’re not sure whether a cut needs stitches, it’s not wise to wait and see. Wounds need to be stitched within 24 hours or the risk of infection rises markedly.

Don’t worry about: A little rectal bleeding

The most embarrassed call I receive concerns blood on toilet paper or in the bowl. It is almost always related to hemorrhoids or small cuts in the rectal area rather than a sign of an ulcer or cancer. Try taking a stool softener, or eat more fruits and vegetables to do the same trick.

When to worry: If the bleeding persists for more than two or three days or is painful, head to the doctor.

Health.com: 18 Reasons Why Your Stomach Hurts

Don’t worry about: Sharp, localized chest pain

We tend to associate the chest with the heart, but there are lungs, bones, muscles and digestive organs in there, too. Sometimes chest pain that’s worse with a cough, a deep breath or movements of the torso, like lifting or twisting, can be caused by strains or irritation in the small muscles and ligaments that surround the ribs. These can be due to injury or a viral infection and generally resolve themselves; a nonsteroidal medicine like ibuprofen may help in the meantime.

When to worry: If you are also short of breath or have a fever, see a doctor. In that case, sharp, localized pain could be a sign of a lung problem. And if you have any doubt about whether you should get medical help for chest pain, it’s always better to err on the side of caution.

Don’t worry about: Rashes

During my medical training, I had an itchy rash on my arms and legs. It lasted two weeks and went away. I still have no idea what it was. Minor rashes are part of life, and no cause will be found for many of them. Use common sense to treat symptoms—taking an antihistamine or applying hydrocortisone cream can help with itching, for example—and think about new products or foods you’ve come in contact with so you can try to avoid a recurrence. Have you used any new shampoos? Is the rash only on the legs (in that case, think plant allergy)? Only on areas exposed to the sun? Only on areas under clothing?

When to worry: If an itchy rash comes on suddenly while taking a medicine (particularly an antibiotic) or eating a new food, seek immediate medical attention, especially if you also have shortness of breath or difficulty swallowing. It could be the start of a life-threatening allergic reaction. Also, if the itching is unbearable despite over-the-counter treatment, you might need something stronger, like a short course of steroids.

Health.com: 19 Signs Your Thyroid Isn’t Working Right

Should you worry more?

As I said, usually my advice involves calming unneeded anxiety. Most of my friends are worriers. But there is another type of patient—the denier—and those people should worry more. That group would include my own husband. So if you’re one of them, here are a few things that should always prompt an urgent medical visit: chest pain or pressure that you can’t localize with one finger and comes back every time you exercise; the worst headache of your life; intense abdominal pain, particularly if accompanied by fever; and shortness of breath severe enough that you have trouble finishing a sentence. This list is by no means complete, but these symptoms should set off immediate alarms. Put down this magazine and see a real doctor!

Elisabeth Rosenthal is a correspondent for The New York Times and a graduate of Harvard Medical School.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME Pain

This Is the No. 1 Cause of Disability Worldwide

88969624
i love images—Getty Images/Cultura RF

About 1 in 10 people suffer from lower back pain

Americans spend at least $50 billion each year on lower back pain, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), and it’s now the No. 1 cause of job disability around the world.

In a new study published in the Annals of Rheumatic Diseases, researchers gathered data from 117 studies from 47 different countries and other supplemental surveys. Lower back pain is the top cause for years lost due to disability (calculated by adding years lost as a result of early death and the number of years lived with disability). About one in 10 people suffer from lower back pain, and prevalence is highest in Western Europe and lowest in the Caribbean and Latin America. And the world’s growing population of elderly means people are living longer with pain.

Besides lost productivity and years of life, chronic back pain’s major problem is how to treat it. There are standard pain killers, heat or ice application, and even surgery in severe cases. Some people prefer acupuncture or even more intensive medication like opioids–which raises addiction concerns. Being sedentary is thought to be one of the causes of back pain, so one the most effective treatments turns out to be exercise.

“Exercise may be the most effective way to speed recovery from low back pain and help strengthen back and abdominal muscles. Maintaining and building muscle strength is particularly important for persons with skeletal irregularities,” the NINDS writes on its website.

The best type of exercises for back pain typically incorporate some muscle work and stretching–something like yoga is thought to do wonders. Walking and swimming also combine muscle building and stretching, and any discomfort during exercise should fade as muscles start to bulk up in the right places.

There’s no magic bullet to prevent the onset of lower back pain, especially if it’s brought on by age, but there are ways to keep the changes at bay: for instance, getting regular physical activity and making sure kids don’t wear backpacks overloaded with heavy school books–kids regularly go to the emergency room for backpack-related injuries.

Given how common and debilitating back pain can be, the study’s authors argue it’s not getting the attention it should. “Governments, health service and research providers and donors need to pay far greater attention to the burden that low back pain causes than what they had done previously,” the authors write.

TIME technology

The Computer Can Tell When You’re Faking It

Kang Lee, Marian Bartlett

Pain, that is

Researchers from the University of California San Diego and the University of Toronto have designed a sophisticated computer that can tell when someone is faking facial expressions of pain with 85% accuracy, outmatching humans’ ability to do so.

To test the computer, the research team had 25 volunteers record two videos each. The first video recorded the volunteers’ expressions while one of their arms was in ice water for a minute, and the second video recorded the subjects pretending to be in pain while their arm was actually in warm water.

The researchers then had 170 people watch the videos and asked them to guess which video showed real pain and which video showed a fake response. The participants did no better than random chance. Even when they were trained on how to spot real and fake emotion in the videos, they only reached 55% accuracy. But the computer guessed correctly 85% of the time.

“In highly social species such as humans, faces have evolved to convey rich information, including expressions of emotion and pain. And, because of the way our brains are built, people can simulate emotions they’re not actually experiencing – so successfully that they fool other people. The computer is much better at spotting the subtle differences between involuntary and voluntary facial movements,” said study author Kang Lee, a professor at the Dr. Eric Jackman Institute of Child Study at the University of Toronto in a statement.

The researchers, whose work is published in the journal Current Biology, hope their technology could one day be applied in fields such as homeland security, job screening and law.

TIME Pain

10 Things Your Commute Does to Your Body

Commuting can have serious health effects
Commuting can have serious health effects chinaface—Getty Images

Your daily back-and-forth to work can have a serious impact on your overall wellness. Here's what you need to know—and how to make the most of it

The average American’s commute to work is 25.5 minutes each way, according to a report in USA Today. That’s about 51 minutes a day getting to and from work, or about 204 hours a year spent commuting. You know that commuting can be a huge pain in the ass—but what does all that back and forth actually do to your body, besides put you in a crap mood when you get stuck in traffic for what feels like the nine-thousandth night in a row? Read on to see how commuting impacts your mental and physical health—and what you can do to offset the damage.

Your Blood Sugar Rises

Driving more than 10 miles each way, to and from work, is associated with higher blood sugar, according to a report written by researchers from the University School of Medicine in Saint Louis and the Cooper Institute in Dallas and published in The American Journal of Preventive Medicine. High blood glucose levels can lead to pre-diabetes and diabetes.

Your Cholesterol is Higher

The same report in The American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that the 10-mile one-way drives were also associated with higher cholesterol levels among commuters. Scary stuff since cholesterol is a warning sign for heart disease.

Your Depression Risk Rises

The researchers from the University School of Medicine in Saint Louis and the Cooper Institute in Dallas also noted in their report that people with commutes of at least 10 miles each way have a higher tendency toward depression, anxiety, and social isolation. Sometimes it can be hard to determine if your down-in-the-dumps mood is a real problem or something that’ll pass. Check here to determine if you’re depressed or just feeling blah.

Your Anxiety Increases

A new report from the U.K.’s Office of National Statistics finds that people who commute more than half an hour to work each way report higher levels of stress and anxiety than people with shorter commutes or no commutes at all. While there’s not much you can do to shorten or eliminate your commute, you can make the most of it by doing something like listening to an interesting audio book. Check out these other ways to take advantage of the time you spend in transit.

Your Happiness and Life Satisfaction Decline

The same report from the U.K. found that people with commutes of any length experience lower life satisfaction and happiness than people with no commutes at all. Riding a bus for 30 minutes or longer was associated with the lowest levels of life satisfaction and happiness, but even if you’re lucky enough to bike to work and enjoy the beautiful outdoors, your satisfaction takes a nosedive commensurate to how long you spend doing it. Womp womp.

Your Blood Pressure Temporarily Spikes

Commuting during rush hour—especially when you’re concerned that you may be late to work or to an important meeting—can result in temporary spikes in stress levels that jack up your blood pressure, even if it’s normally stable. In fact, a researcher from the University of Utah set up an experiment where participants were placed in simulated driving scenarios: They were told they were late to a meeting and had a financial incentive to get to their destination quickly. Half the group was put in high-density traffic; the other half “drove” in a less congested environment. The people who drove in more intense traffic had much higher reports of stress, as well as higher blood pressure. If you feel like you’re always in a rush, it might be worth leaving well before rush hour—even if you arrive at work at the same time as you normally would, you’ll definitely feel less anxious on the drive over. Plus, you may also want to employ these tips on how to use yoga to de-stress during the drive.

Your Blood Pressure Rises Over Time, As Well

A study of 4,297 Texans found that the farther the participants lived from where they worked—the longer their commutes—the higher their blood pressure was. High blood pressure over time is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke.

Your Cardiovascular Fitness Drops

The same study out of Texas found that people with longer commutes also had lower levels of cardiovascular fitness and physical activity. Cardiovascular fitness is critical for heart health and maintaining a healthy weight.

Your Sleep Suffers

The Regus Work-Life Balance Index for 2012 found that people who commute for longer than 45 minutes each way reported lower sleep quality and more exhaustion than people with shorter commutes. To get better a better night’s sleep and feel more rested, regardless of your commuter status, check out our story, “Why Are Modern Women So Exhausted?”

Your Back Aches

Spending hours a week slouched over in a car seat (either as a driver or a passenger) has negative consequences on your posture and your back; commuters are more likely to report pains and aches in their backs and necks. To counteract these ill effects, be sure to check out six ways to straighten up your posture.

This article was written by Carolyn Kylstra and originally appeared on WomensHealth.com.

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