Easy guide to pain reliever differences*
Understand the 2 main types of OTC medicines
There may seem to be dozens of choices on store shelves, but there really are only 2 main types of oral over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers: acetaminophen and NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). They may treat the same symptoms, but they work differently in your body and may have different active ingredients, warnings, and dosing directions. One type may be more appropriate for you, based on your age, health conditions, and other medicines you take. It’s important to understand pain reliever differences so that you can make the right choice for you.
OTC pain relievers have different warnings on their labels about possible side effects. These differences are important to understand because they can affect your health. For example:
Taking too much (more than 4,000 mg in a day) could harm your liver
If you take more than 1 medicine that contains an NSAID at a time, it increases your chance of stomach bleeding
If you have high blood pressure or heart disease, ask your doctor before using an NSAID
If you take aspirin for heart attack or stroke, ibuprofen may decrease that heart health benefit
Check the Drug Facts label on your medicine’s carton for a full list of warnings. Download a guide to Drug Facts labels
The most common OTC pain relievers—acetaminophen, ibuprofen, naproxen sodium, and aspirin—all have different dosing directions. It is not safe to apply the directions of one pain reliever to another. To be sure you’re taking the right amount of your pain reliever, download and print the adult pain reliever dosing chart and keep it with your medicines.