Arthritis patients may be mismanaging paracetamol

paracetamol challenge: blister pack with one tablet separate

Many Australians with arthritis may be putting their health at risk by inadvertently mismanaging the amount of paracetamol medications they consume, new research has found – and pharmacists can help educate them.

This is a finding of a University of Wollongong School of Medicine study of 254 adult patients with arthritis published in The Journal of Pharmacy Practice and Research.

People most at risk of health problems including liver disease, according to the study, include patients with low functional health literacy who are not always able to recognise paracetamol to be an active ingredient in several prescription or over-the-counter pharmaceutical products.

Study participants who were at even greater risk included those who had shared or borrowed their prescription and over-the-counter pain medications.

Research team leader Dr Judy Mullan (Senior Lecturer in Population Health for UOW’s School of Medicine) says that the data collection was conducted as part of Dr Janette Ellis’s PhD study.

Eligible study participants, diagnosed with arthritis, were invited to complete an anonymous survey which included questions about their prescription and over-the-counter pain medications; their medication borrowing and sharing behaviours; their functional health literacy; and their knowledge about preparations containing paracetamol as an active ingredient.

Most of the 254 participants used analgesic agents containing paracetamol, as combination tablets (paracetamol 500mg and codeine 30mg) or paracetamol-only tablets (paracetamol 665mg) to self-manage their pain.

Dr Mullan says respondents with low functional health literacy scores were significantly less likely to identify paracetamol as an active ingredient in both combination and paracetamol-only pharmaceutical products.

“And they were more likely to guess or did not know how to identify that paracetamol was an active ingredient in these products,” she says.

Almost 30% of the respondents indicated that they had, and/or intended to borrow/share, their over-the-counter pain medications whereas fewer than 10% suggested that they had, and/or intended, to borrow/share their prescription pain medication.

Dr Mullan says that the study findings highlight the need for health professionals, especially pharmacists and pharmacy staff, to help educate consumers about how to identify the active ingredients, the maximum dosage and the potential for side effects associated with taking pharmaceutical products containing paracetamol.

The research team consisted of the late Dr Janette Ellis (Dr Ellis died in 2013), Dr Judy Mullan, Professor Anthony Worsley, Professor Nagesh Pai, Dr Kathryn Weston, Dr Warren Rich and Dr Alistair Lethbridge.

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