OTC Pain Meds… Which is Which?

Choosing the right OTC pain reliefThis article is for informational purposes only, and you should not use it to diagnose or treat any illness or unexplained pain.  Always consult your doctor if you have concerns, and give us a call at Brian’s Pharmacies if you have questions about pain relief after reading this general information.

Ibuprofen, acetaminophen, aspirin, naproxen sodium… they’re all the same, right?  Maybe you’re more familiar with them by brand name: Advil, Motrin, Tylenol, Bayer, Aleve.  Though any or all of these medications can relive pain, we’re here to help you figure out which medication will make more sense for you to take for your particular ailment.


Acetaminophen is a good choice to reduce fever and relieve headache and general pain.  Because it does not reduce inflammation, injuries that involve swelling (a sprained ankle, for instance) are better treated with an NSAID pain reliever. Acetaminophen is also known to be gentler on the stomach than other pain relievers, so it may be preferred by some with stomach issues.  Though considered safe when taken properly, it is very important to pay careful attention to the dosage instructions when taking acetaminophen, since overdoses are known to cause liver damage. Overdose of acetaminophen is now the leading cause of acute liver failure in the United States.

NSAID Pain Relievers

Three of the four medications fall under the category of NSAIDs:  ibuprofen (Advil & Motrin), aspirin (Bayer), and naproxen sodium (Aleve).  NSAID stands for Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug. In other words, these non-narcotic medications relieve pain and inflammation without using steroids.  You’ll notice that acetaminophen is not included in this group. Why?  Because acetaminophen (Tylenol) does not reduce inflammation.


Known by the brand names Advil or Motrin, ibuprofen is a very common NSAID pain reliever.  It is often preferred because it does not stay in the body too long, which lessens the risk causing long-term stomach and kidney problems.  It can reduce fever and relive pain, as well as reduce swelling in the body.

Naproxen Sodium

Commonly known by the brand name Aleve, naproxen sodium provides pain relief for a longer period of time than ibuprofen, and according to some studies, carries lesser risks to your heart than other NSAIDs.  Because naproxen sodium lasts longer than ibuprofen, it is at times preferred by those dealing with chronic pain.


Known also by the Bayer brand name, aspirin has been around for many years as a reliable form of pain relief.  However, since studies have shown its effectiveness as an anti-clotting agent, aspirin has become popular today as a preventative measure against heart attack and stroke.

Interestingly, the Harvard School of Medicine advises us to wait 30 minutes after taking aspirin for heart health before taking other NSAIDs for pain, since other NSAIDs can reduce the aspirin’s anti-clotting ability.

According to the National Institute of Health, “Aspirin should not be given to children or teenagers with fever, chickenpox, or symptoms of the flu or viral infection, because aspirin can cause a serious disease called Reye’s syndrome.”

Whatever your discomfort, whether it’s a sprained wrist, a headache, menstrual pain or arthritis, we hope you find the pain relief that is safe and effective.  The caring pharmacists and staff here at Brian’s Pharmacies are always willing to answer your questions about OTC pain medications.  We care about your health!

Speak Your Mind