Our new columnist Lucy Dunn begins a series of occasional columns on health matters by asking whether paracetamol really is the best way to treat pain.

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Paracetamol: the apparent ‘cure’ for headache, muscle pain, infection, hangover – the list is extensive. But what actually are painkillers? And do they always ‘kill’ pain?

Could routinely taking painkillers cause more harm than good? Could some of us develop a tolerance, meaning they work less each time? Could others fall into the trap of addiction?

For a medication so frequently used, it’s interesting to wonder if there are consequences.

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Paracetamol reduces pain but also has a special ability to fix fever. It’s brilliant in viral infections, calming the detestable hot-cold sweats the cold and flu bring. It’s also taken for headaches, mild joint or muscle pain and period cramps.

But, as with everything, there are risks: very high doses of paracetamol can result in liver damage and sometimes even severely painful death. Long-term use of paracetamol has been reported by studies to increase the risk of internal bleeding, kidney damage and even heart attack. Some headaches are caused by excessive paracetamol use.

All this doesn’t mean that paracetamol should be avoided – however it is important to think twice about whether the pain you have truly is unbearable enough to warrant it.

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How can we reduce our use of painkillers? Figuring out the source and cause of the pain is crucial.

Triggers for headaches include certain types of food, alcohol, lack of sleep, dehydration or stress. Muscle and joint discomfort can often be eased by certain movements, and it’s important to consider: is there any way that you could sleep differently, sit differently or do more exercise?

Taking the time yourself, or with a doctor, to analyse your situation can be helpful in preventing reoccurrence of pain and unnecessary use of painkillers.

Whilst not all pain can be managed without meds, it is interesting that those same medications can actually inflame a problem rather than soothe it.

Reaching straight for the paracetamol is an easy option, but it may only be a short-term fix. Figuring out the root of the cause enables you to deal directly with the issue: ultimately a more effective method of pain relief.