Co-codamol is a commonly used medication. This blog describes what type of medication co-codamol is, what it can be used for and how it helps to manage and reduce pain. You will also learn about the available strengths and dosages, and possible side effects.
What is co-codamol?
Co-codamol is a type of painkiller, which contains a combination of two medications – paracetamol and codeine. Paracetamol is an analgesic (specifically for pain relief) and antipyretic (fever reducing) drug. Paracetamol is available over the counter and is a commonly used painkiller. On the other hand, codeine, while also an analgesic, is a potent painkiller belonging to the group of drugs called opioids. Opioids work by imitating the activity of endorphins (naturally occurring pain-reducing chemicals) which block pain signals to the brain. Codeine is available on prescription only. This combination enhances pain relief. Co-codamol is usually prescribed to treat moderate to severe pain conditions. As it is a stronger medication, co-codamol is advised to be used as a short-term option for pain relief due to its dependency risk. It should also be taken under the guidance of a doctor.
What is co-codamol used for?
Co-codamol is effective in managing various types of moderate to severe pain. The medication provides relief for conditions such as postoperative pain, dental pain, musculoskeletal pain (including sprains and arthritis-related pain), migraine or tension headaches, and menstrual pain.
Co-codamol is often prescribed to individuals in cases where over-the-counter painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen are not providing adequate relief.
How does co-codamol manage pain?
Co-codamol is effective because of the mixture of the two analgesics (pain relieving drugs), paracetamol and codeine. Each ingredient follows a different path and uses alternative methods to control pain. Therefore, the combination allows for more effective pain relief than either medicine could provide alone.
It’s not fully clear how paracetamol functions, but we know it works primarily in the brain. It weakens signals to the brain that communicate pain and fever. When you take paracetamol, it helps to decrease these signals, making you feel less pain.
Meanwhile, codeine focuses on opioid receptors in your brain and spinal cord. These receptors are like doors that allow pain signals to reach your brain. Codeine works like a key that locks these doors, preventing the passage of pain signals.
While paracetamol works by reducing pain and fever signals in your brain, codeine works in different areas of your brain and spinal cord to block pain signals.
This combined approach allows for broader and more effective pain management. However, due to codeine’s strength and potential risks, co-codamol is typically prescribed when over-the-counter painkillers haven’t worked.
Co-codamol strengths and dosages
Are there different strengths?
Co-codamol is available as tablets and capsules and in three different strengths. All these variations contain the same amount of paracetamol, 500mg, which is how much is in a standard paracetamol tablet or capsule. Co-codamol contains much less milligrams of codeine, as codeine is a more potent drug. Therefore, the three variations are characterized by the amount of codeine mixed in the tablets or capsules. The medication is available in 8mg, 15mg or 30mg of codeine.
You can determine the strength of co-codamol by looking at the two amounts on the packet. For instance, if 8mg/500mg is on the packaging, the 8 represents 8mg of codeine, and the 500 represents 500 mg of paracetamol. As the amount of paracetamol stays the same, only the first figure will differ.
The lowest strength of co-codamol (8mg/500mg) can be purchased without a prescription, but it is only available from a pharmacy. The higher strengths (15mg/500mg and 30mg/500mg) require a prescription from a doctor.
What dosages can be taken?
The dosage of co-codamol can be adjusted based on individual needs, but it is essential to follow the recommended guidelines to ensure safe and effective use.
For adults and young people aged 16 years and older, the recommended dosage by the NHS is 1 or 2 tablets of any strength, up to 4 times in a 24-hour period. It is crucial to leave a gap of at least 4 to 6 hours between each dose. Remember, the maximum dose should not exceed 8 co-codamol tablets in 24 hours.
While co-codamol is effective in pain management, be cautious when consuming it to relieve pain. Do not increase the dosage or take a double dose, even if the pain is severe. Taking more than the recommended amount of co-codamol can be very dangerous. This is due to the risk of liver damage which the paracetamol content can cause. Always consult your doctor for appropriate dosing instructions based on your specific needs and medical history.
Possible side effects of co-codamol
As with any medicine, taking co-codamol may cause side effects. However, several people do not experience them or for those who do, side effects are generally mild. Here are some common side effects to be aware of that can occur in more than 1 in 100 people:
Some individuals may also experience dry mouth or difficulty sleeping.
Serious side effects are rare but if you experience any skin rashes, difficulty urinating, changes in your vision or dizziness, you should inform a doctor immediately.
For a full list of side effects, refer to the leaflet included in your medication packet.
In conclusion, co-codamol is a commonly prescribed pain medication that combines the pain-relieving properties of paracetamol and codeine. It is generally effective in managing various types of pain, such as postoperative pain, dental pain, musculoskeletal pain, headaches, and menstrual pain.
It is important to use co-codamol responsibly, only in the short-term and under the guidance of a doctor, as it may have possible side effects and risks. Always follow the recommended dosages and seek medical advice if needed. By being informed and cautious, individuals can manage their pain effectively with co-codamol while minimizing potential risks.
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