What Is Acute Pain? Ibuprofen and Acetaminophen Combination

Have you ever experienced acute pain? There are several analgesics or pain medicines for acute pain management, and it can be difficult to choose. Perhaps you’ve thought about combining ibuprofen and acetaminophen? This, however, raises a question if you can take ibuprofen and Tylenol together. Let’s find out more about acute pain and its management.

Key takeaways:
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    Acute pain usually has a specific cause associated with it, e.g., surgery, burns, or trauma.
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    Pain is subjective. Your care team may use rating scales and other visual aids to know more about your pain.
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    Medications such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen can help in alleviating acute pain.
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    Talk therapy, relaxation, and gentle exercise can reduce acute pain. Consult your doctor for home management of acute pain.

What is acute pain?

According to the NANDA-I Nursing diagnoses, acute pain is defined as an "unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with acute or potential tissue damage or described in terms of such damage.” The onset of acute pain can be sudden (over a few minutes) or gradual (over a few days) and can range in intensity from mild to severe. Acute pain usually ends in an anticipated or predictable manner and lasts less than three months. When the pain lasts for more than three months, it is referred to as chronic pain.

Acute pain can be due to a variety of causes, such as:

  • Superficial. Wounds and minor burns.
  • Deep. Broken bones or damage to muscles and ligaments.
  • Visceral. Diseases of internal organs such as the stomach, liver, or trauma.
  • Neuropathic. Diseases that damage the nervous system, e.g., diabetes or stroke.

Acute pain nursing diagnosis

Often, a nurse practitioner or an emergency room (ER) nurse treats a patient presenting with acute pain. Some characteristics of acute pain can be:

  • The facial expression of pain
  • Guarding or protecting behavior
  • Activity changes due to the pain
  • Blood pressure and heart rate changes
  • Changes in sleep
  • Sweating

Apart from these physical symptoms, patients experiencing acute pain may demonstrate some cognitive or emotional symptoms as well. They can appear distracted and self-focused, report feelings of hopelessness, and may demonstrate expressive behaviors such as crying, sighing, groaning, etc.

Pain is subjective, which makes diagnosis of pain difficult. A patient with acute pain may be unable to describe their pain using words, hence, nurse practitioners often use various visual charts for diagnosis. The FACES scale, a popular visual tool, has pain ratings from 0 to 10. Each pain rating has an emotional cartoon face (e.g., crying, neutral, smiling) and a verbal descriptor (e.g., no hurt, hurts a little bit, hurts worst). Patients can provide pain ratings as they view the scale. Different age-appropriate scales, such as the Comfort Behavioral Scale or the FLACC scale (i.e., the Face, Legs, Activity, Cry, Consolability scale), may be used for diagnosing pain in children.

Analgesics for pain

Nurse practitioners and doctors consider several factors, such as history, underlying cause, intensity of the pain, and loss of function, before prescribing analgesics for the pain. Healthcare providers will usually prescribe non-opioid analgesics if the pain is persistent in nature or increasing, which include acetaminophen (Tylenol) and non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) like aspirin and ibuprofen. They're often available over-the-counter at local pharmacies.

  • Acetaminophen helps with fever and mild pain.
  • Ibuprofen aids with inflammation and moderate pain.

They are often combined to reduce moderate pain when acetaminophen alone is not enough. A research study compared the combined effect of the two to them standalone in post-operative patients with pain. The study observed the patients for 48 hours post-surgery and did not find any adverse effects between the drugs. In fact, taken together, acetaminophen and ibuprofen were more effective than taken alone. A combination tablet of acetaminophen and ibuprofen may be available at your local pharmacy.

Another option for moderate to severe pain is opioid analgesics, which include morphine and fentanyl. However, their usage requires careful administration due to associated side effects, such as constipation, nausea, vomiting, and respiratory depression. Since opioid overdose can lead to death, healthcare practitioners are cautious about prescribing them. Additionally, opioids are highly addictive, and hence, doctors prescribe them in severe cases only. In some cases, adjuvant drugs, such as Gabapentin, may be necessary. Gabapentin is an anticonvulsant and is also effective in managing neuropathic pain when prescribed along with other analgesics.

Home remedies for pain

For certain diagnoses, acute pain can be managed by non-pharmacological treatments and can be influenced by psychosocial factors. For instance, patients experiencing acute pain can get grumpy, tired, anxious, or depressed. Interventions such as talk therapy or relaxation are effective in several cases. For some individuals, mind–body interventions, such as meditation, breathing exercises, and gentle exercises, may be beneficial. Local patient support groups can offer emotional support or resources needed. However, it is important to consult your doctor/nurse practitioner to discuss your treatment options before following home remedies.

In a nutshell, acute pain is defined as an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with acute or potential tissue damage. To diagnose and quantify acute pain experienced by patients, healthcare practitioners often use perceived rating visual tools. NSAIDs are often prescribed to manage acute pain, but in some cases, opioid analgesics are necessary. Some patients benefit from non-pharmacological treatments like therapy, exercise, and meditation. Talk to your doctor/nurse today to know more about your treatment options.


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