Awareness and use of over-the-counter pain medications: a survey of emergency department patients

South Med J. 2002 May;95(5):529-35.


Background: A survey study was done to determine basic knowledge about and use of over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications among patients seen in our emergency department (ED). The hypothesis was that knowledge about OTC pain medications would be correlated with demographic characteristics.

Methods: The study was a prospective 21-question survey during randomized 4-hour shifts over a 6-week study period.

Results: Of the 213 subjects who participated, 143 (67%) reported having used some form of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), and 127 (60%) had used acetaminophen products recently. Women were more aware of toxic interactions and gastrointestinal (GI) irritation related to these medications. Ibuprofen use correlated with age (younger individuals used more) and having no primary physician (those without a physician used less). Knowledge about GI effects correlated with age, sex, and education. Knowledge about renal and hepatic problems correlated with age and education.

Conclusion: Many patients use OTC pain medications. Many are ill informed about their use and side effects. More education is needed.

MeSH terms

  • Acetaminophen / adverse effects
  • Adult
  • Analgesics, Non-Narcotic* / adverse effects
  • Aspirin / adverse effects
  • Drug Utilization
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Humans
  • Ibuprofen / adverse effects
  • Male
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Naproxen / adverse effects
  • Nonprescription Drugs* / adverse effects
  • Prospective Studies
  • Regression Analysis


  • Analgesics, Non-Narcotic
  • Nonprescription Drugs
  • Acetaminophen
  • Naproxen
  • Aspirin
  • Ibuprofen