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No better than placebo: scientists say paracetamol doesn't work
No better than placebo: scientists say paracetamol doesn't work

Paracetamol is one of the most popular medicines. It is used to reduce fever and as a pain reliever, and both children and adults take drugs based on it. Scientists from Australia have figured out an amazing thing: they claim that this drug is not very effective as an analgesic. We figure out what's what.

No better than placebo: scientists say paracetamol doesn't work

Paracetamol is the basis of many popular drugs. It is available in tablets, suspensions, suppositories and is intended for both adults and children. Paracetamol is taken when it is necessary to bring down the temperature, and also as a pain reliever. It is the most popular analgesic in the world - in 58% of cases, buyers who want to buy a pain reliever purchase paracetamol. Aspirin accounts for 17% and ibuprofen 16%.

The drug was synthesized at the end of the 19th century, but gained wide popularity only in the second half of the 20th century, when it began to be sold as an effective (and safer for children) pain reliever and antipyretic drug.

Manufacturers claim that paracetamol is effective for various pains and recommend using it for pains of various origins: headache and toothache, back pain, pain after childbirth or surgery, and dozens of other varieties.

Pain is a signal that something is wrong in the body. It can be indicative of inflammation, trauma, injury, and other abnormalities. The inability to feel pain is a condition that can even turn out to be dangerous for the body. So, a resident of Great Britain does not feel pain with fractures, severe injuries and burns - she has never taken painkillers in her life and has not noticed various injuries for a long time. This woman is a mystery to scientists who are now studying her genome.

Only works 10% of the time

However, most of us feel pain and have to take analgesics from time to time. To find out if the good old paracetamol is such a versatile analgesic, scientists from the University of Sydney decided. They looked at 36 scientific reviews published over the past 10 years and concluded that paracetamol is not as good as it is commonly believed.

They found that paracetamol is suggested for 44 pain-related conditions. However, the analgesic was effective only for four of them. In all other cases, the drug worked no better than the placebo, which means that it practically did not relieve pain and did not improve the condition of the patients.

So, it turned out that paracetamol is useless for back pain. The authors of the work do not exclude that the pain simply passed by itself over time, and did not disappear as a result of taking an analgesic.

There has been no scientific evidence that paracetamol relieves middle ear infections (otitis media), toothache, menstrual and dental pain, and abdominal pain. This means that no one knows if the analgesic actually works.


In general, it turned out that paracetamol has been used for so long that they simply "forgot" to check how effectively it works. In fact, the drug works only in four cases:

  • pain in the knee or hip joint with osteoarthritis;
  • headache;
  • pain in the perineum after childbirth (for example, after a tear or episiotomy);
  • pain after craniotomy - surgery in which part of the skull is removed.

In all other cases, paracetamol coped with pain poorly or did not work at all, turning out to be no better than a placebo.

The authors of the study believe that the indications for the use of paracetamol should be reconsidered, because it is sold in pharmacies without a prescription and people take this analgesic with or without reason. In some cases, for example, with back pain, the appointment of paracetamol is a typical recommendation that is widespread throughout the world.

What else do you need to know about paracetamol?

Thank God, for headaches - perhaps the most popular reason for taking pain relievers, paracetamol still helps. However, he does not cope with migraines - to combat migraine pain, more serious drugs must be used, which are prescribed by a doctor and are obtained by prescription.

Choosing paracetamol as an analgesic, it is worth remembering that you need to take the medicine according to the instructions, not exceeding the permissible daily dose: for an adult - 4 g of paracetamol, this is really quite a lot.

It is recommended to drink paracetamol no more than once every four hours. If you take the medicine for more than three days in a row, and there is no improvement, you should consult a doctor for advice and the appointment of another pain reliever.

Concomitant use of paracetamol with alcohol increases the risk of side effects. The most serious of them is the toxic effect on the liver, as a result of which this organ may stop working altogether, which will lead to death.

Paracetamol can not only be sold in "pure" form, but also be a component of many other drugs, such as sizzling tablets, which are taken for colds and flu, they usually contain not only paracetamol, but also a considerable dose of vitamin C.

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