An analgesic (also known as a painkiller) is any member of the group of drugs used to relieve pain (achieve analgesia). The word analgesic derives from Greek an- ("without") and algos ("pain").
Analgesic drugs act in various ways on the peripheral and central nervous systems; they include paracetamol (para-acetylaminophenol, also known in the US as acetaminophen), the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as the salicylates, and opioid drugs such as morphine and opium. They are distinct from anesthetics, which reversibly eliminate sensation.
In choosing analgesics, the severity and response to other medication determines the choice of agent; the WHO pain ladder, originally developed in cancer-related pain, is widely applied to find suitable drugs in a stepwise manner. The analgesic choice is also determined by the type of pain: for neuropathic pain, traditional analgesics are less effective, and there is often benefit from classes of drugs that are not normally considered analgesics, such as tricyclic antidepressants and anticonvulsants.
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