More patients using over-the-counter blocking devices to avoid painkillers


AUSTIN (KXAN) — Pain blocking devices may be replacing prescription painkillers. Doctors report more patients are turning to over-the-counter units to treat pain and avoid opioids.

“On the first day, you don’t even want to get out of bed,” said Maria Angelica Blesa, a freshman at the University of Texas at Austin. The problem: menstrual pain that calls for a pill.

“Sometimes, medication doesn’t even work for me,” said Alice Li, a freshman. “It still hurts.”

Now, more patients are using Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation devices, or TENS units for short, for all kinds of pain. One device recently on the market is called Livia, which targets menstrual discomfort.

Patients place small pads near their pelvic area, where they ache. When the patient turns on the device, micro-pulses distract nerves from sending pain signals to the brain, effectively shutting off the ache, said Dr. Jeff Higginbotham, a pain management specialist in Austin.

Over-the-counter TENS devices can range between $50 to $400 and many can be purchased online.

Many patients are using the machines to avoid painkillers and the side effects that come with them.

“Seventy-five to 80 percent of all patients I see would prefer not to just take a pill for their pain,” Dr. Higginbotham said. “Some people believe that that’s the only option they’ve ever seen.”With few side effects and the risk of addiction gone, Dr. Higginbotham believes TENS units are just one tool in a patient’s larger treatment plan.

“We do have more availability of different options,” he said ” And, I’m hopeful that not only are they out there, but they’re affordable. “

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