Choosing an over-the-counter (OTC) pain medication can be frustrating.
In fact, standing in the pharmacy aisle and staring at the dizzying array
of options can give you a headache … which is exactly why you’re here!
So what will it be? Tylenol? Alleve? Ibuprofen? Here are a few guidelines
that will help you decide.
To begin with, doctors usually recommend OTC pain relievers like acetaminophen
(Tylenol) and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS). The most
common NSAIDS are aspirin, Ibuprofen and Naproxen. They are generally
used to treat headaches, fever, and minor body aches and pain from sprains,
strains and arthritis. They are also used for mild to moderate pain from
Aspirin (Bayer, Bufferin, Excedrin) is a good choice for treating headaches, toothaches
and arthritis pain. A drawback, however, is that it can cause heartburn
and upset stomach so it’s best to take with food. It is never safe
for younger children due to the risk of Reye’s Syndrome.
Ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) is similar, but it doesn’t irritate the stomach
and esophagus as much as aspirin. (It should also be taken with food.)
Sold as Motrin or Advil, Ibuprofen is effective for treating fevers and
reducing swelling and pain.
Naproxen (Aleve) is highly effective for muscle aches and pains because it is longer
lasting than other OTC pain relievers. It can also be helpful for menstrual
cramps in women.
Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is
not an anti-inflammatory substance, so it doesn’t help with pain caused by inflammation.
It is effective for headaches, fever and minor body aches and pains. Studies
show that it can be harmful to the liver if it is taken too frequently
at higher doses and for long periods of time. For high fevers, doctors
often recommend alternating Tylenol with Ibuprofen every three to four hours.
“Most patients do just fine with over-the-counter pain relievers,”
said Dr. Wayne Gravois, “because they are so similar. However, some
can cause allergic reactions (particularly NSAIDS), and can be harmful
if they are taken too often. Your doctor or pharmacist can help you find
the right drug for your pain, and answer your questions about proper dosage
and side effects.”
Wayne D. Gravois, MD
Baton Rouge General Physicians - Family Health Center