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The Difference Between Common Pain Reliever Ingredients

Anyone browsing through a drugstore's pain relief section will find a wide range of treatment options. However, with various brand names and medical claims, it can be difficult to tell which medicine to take. The answer may be more simple than you think. While the products appear different, a closer look reveals that most medicines come down to one of four possible active ingredients: aspirin, ibuprofen, and acetaminophen or naproxen sodium. ... Read More

The Difference Between Common Pain Reliever Ingredients

Anyone browsing through a drugstore’s pain relief section will find a wide range of treatment options. However, with various brand names and medical claims, it can be difficult to tell which medicine to take.

The answer may be more simple than you think. While the products appear different, a closer look reveals that most medicines come down to one of four possible active ingredients: aspirin, ibuprofen, and acetaminophen or naproxen sodium.

Pain relief medications fall into two basic categories: acetaminophen and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), each affecting the body differently and accompanied by various potential side effects.

Acetaminophen

Sometimes labeled as paracetamol, acetaminophen reduces fevers and relieves minor aches and pains such as muscle aches, headaches, backaches, toothaches, arthritis, colds and sore throats. It’s often found in over-the-counter (OTC) cold and cough remedies. Additionally, there may be longer-term benefits of acetaminophen for those suffering from conditions such as osteoarthritis, chronic back pain and headaches. Talk to your doctor to learn about these treatment options.

Acetaminophen doesn’t have to be taken on a full stomach like some other OTC pain relievers. But remember, it’s also not an anti-inflammatory drug, so it won’t reduce swelling.

When taken correctly, acetaminophen has a low risk for side effects. However, improper or long term usage may damage your liver. As with any medication, it’s important to consult your doctor and follow package instructions to avoid complications.

NSAIDs

Aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen sodium are all NSAIDs. In general, these medicines are anti-inflammatory and, in low OTC doses as well as higher prescribed amounts, work by temporarily blocking the enzymes in your body that promote inflammation, pain and fever.

Although usage and side effects overlap, each has marked differences.

Aspirin

Aspirin, also known as acetylsalicylic acid or ASA, may be used to lower fevers, limit inflammation and treat mild to moderate pain. It is also given in low doses as a blood thinner, so it may be used to prevent heart attacks and strokes. Be sure to consult with a physician before using the drug for this purpose.

The side effects and potential risks of aspirin are serious for children, so this medicine is not recommended for anyone under the age of 18. Contact your doctor for specific information about aspirin and dosage recommendations.

Ibuprofen

Also a mild to moderate pain reliever and fever reducer, ibuprofen further treats pain and aching related to arthritis, menstrual cramps, colds, muscle aches, toothaches, backaches and headaches. A lower dose provides four to six hours of pain relief; as a result, doctors consider it a short-term solution for addressing day-to-day pains.

Naproxen Sodium

This pain relief medication works like ibuprofen but has a longer-lasting effect. Specifically, a naproxen-based OTC drug may block pain for up to seven hours, which means the patient has to take fewer pills during the day.

Even with their benefits, all NSAIDs have multiple serious side effects. Long-term usage and high dosages increase the risk for heart problems, ulcers and high blood pressure, among other issues. Talk with your doctor about the medication that’s right for you, and always follow package instructions.