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Hydrocodone pills come in formulations related to what potentiators are mixed with its narcotic component. The two most common types of hydrocodone pills are mixed with acetaminophen or aspirin. To determine which formulation is appropriate for a specific patient, a doctor will look at the patient’s symptoms, co-existing conditions, and overall health status. Hydrocodone, a narcotic medication, relieves pain by binding to opioid receptors throughout the body, especially in the brain and spinal cord. It has other applications, as well, like in treating serious coughing episodes. In this case, hydrocodone pills come in formulations that combine the semi-synthetic opiate with upper respiratory medications.
One of the main reasons that hydrocodone is combined with other pain relieving agents is because research has shown that the addition of medications, like acetaminophen and aspirin, reduce the amount of narcotic needed to combat moderate to severe pain. Acetaminophen, aspirin, and other analgesics that are used in preparations with hydrocodone are called “potentiators.' The addition of potentiators to hydrocodone pills can lessen the need for high amounts of the addictive opioid substance. Hydrocodone itself acts as the potentiator in some upper respiratory medications, like antitussives. Antitussives contain an expectorant or other upper respiratory agent, like guaifenesin, which acts in conjunction with hydrocodone, a cough suppressant.
One of the most common preparations of hydrocodone pills is hydrocodone with acetaminophen (APAP); this formulation is used to treat moderate to severe pain. The additional analgesic, APAP, lowers fevers and relieves acute and chronic pain. APAP is not an anti-inflammatory agent, however, so this preparation is usually not given for injuries that involve substantial swelling and edema, like sprains and arthritis, for example. APAP is gentle on the digestive system, in comparison to other analgesics which are significantly disruptive and irritating, and can be used by patients with digestive tract disease or ulcers of the stomach. APAP is toxic to the liver at moderate doses, however, and its use should be closely monitored by a physician or pharmacist.
The addition of another common analgesic, aspirin, in hydrocodone pills is used to treat moderate to severe pain as well. Aspirin is used as a potentiator in patients who have an injury or illness that needs treatment with an anti-inflammatory agent, as aspirin has this capacity. Aspirin is considered inappropriate in patients who have severe digestive disturbance, like bleeding ulcers, because it can cause irritation, and in some cases, hemorrhagic bleeding because it inhibits clotting factors within the blood. Aspirin is also never used to treat children with viral diseases because it could cause Reye’s syndrome, a rare brain disorder.