Common Pain Relievers

The Difference Between Common Pain Relievers

What is the difference between pain relievers? 

Why are there so many different types of pain relievers and what is the difference between them? Many people find themselves wondering the same thing when looking for a pain reliever. But do all pain relievers work the same way? And if they do, why do we have so many options? In this article, we’ll explore over-the-counter pain relievers commonly found in households. We’ll look at what they are made of, what they are made for and how to safely and appropriately use them.

Breakdown of Pain Relievers

When it comes to over-the-counter pain relievers, there are two types: acetaminophen (commonly known as Tylenol) and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). With NSAIDs, there are a few types including aspirin (such as Bayer), naproxen (such as Aleve) and ibuprofen (such as Advil and Motrin). 

The main difference between nonsteriodal anti-inflammatory drugs and acetaminophen drugs is how they work to reduce pain. Acetaminophen works by interfering with the parts of the brain that receive pain messages while NSAIDs reduce the level of prostaglandins (a hormone that creates the sensation of pain in your body). With a difference this big, it’s important to note that each type of pain reliever has been designed to deal with a different type of pain. For example, acetaminophen works best if you are trying to get rid of a headache or common aches and pains. On the other hand, NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen, work best if you are trying to reduce inflammation, a fever or pain caused by muscle cramps. 


As with any medication, there are some precautions to be aware when taking pain relievers, even over-the-counter ones. 

Follow the directions. The medication comes with directions that are approved by the FDA on how to safely and appropriately use it. Following the directions carefully includes taking the appropriate dose at the correct times and not taking more than the exceeded amount. Always consult with your doctor if you have any questions.

Consider other medications you may be taking. Some pain relievers may not be as effective or could pose serious side effects if taken with other medications. For example, if you are currently taking a medication with acetaminophen as an ingredient, it is advised that you do not take Tylenol (or any other medication with acetaminophen). Be sure to talk with your doctor about the current medications you are taking.

Consider any health issues or conditions you may have. For both acetaminophen and NSAIDs, you should not take them if you have liver or kidney disease. You should be cautious if you have heart disease, high blood pressure or a blood disorder. 

Next time you reach for a pain reliever, be sure to consider the topics we explored today, including: What pain are you trying to treat? What medications are you currently taking? And, what health concerns do you have? Remember, the best way to be safe when taking over-the-counter medication is to talk with your primary care physician or pharmacist beforehand. 

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