Everyone experiences some sort of pain. Whether it’s back pain, headaches, cramps, a fever, sore throat or inflammation, we’ve all taken a trip to the pharmacy to pick up some over-the-counter medications to relieve us from this pain.
In 2015, the Consumer Healthcare Products Association reported that U.S. households spend about $338 annually on OTC medications. Two of these go-to medications include acetaminophen and ibuprofen. Both of these remedies might relieve some symptoms, but it’s important to know which medication should be used, depending on the symptoms.
Acetaminophen is an OTC medication used to reduce fever and to relieve mild to moderate pain in the body. Acetaminophen is the most widely used painkiller in the world, and is often recommended to help relieve headaches and arthritis related issues. A common brand of acetaminophen is Tylenol. Acetaminophen also can be found as a component of Excedrin and many other OTC medications.
Ibuprofen is an OTC nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug used mainly to treat pain, and to reduce fever and inflammation. It also is commonly used for muscle aches, menstrual periods and cramps, migraines and arthritis. A common brand of ibuprofen is Advil.
Both medications will help ease pain, but physicians recommend using acetaminophen and ibuprofen in different situations. Many people turn to acetaminophen to fight a fever, but studies have suggested that ibuprofen works better. If your pain is due to swelling or inflammation, ibuprofen would be more effective. Children younger than 6 months and pregnant woman are asked to take acetaminophen instead of ibuprofen.
Ibuprofen and acetaminophen are both considered safe, but they can be dangerous if used incorrectly. Acetaminophen, in rare cases, can cause skin rashes and allergic reactions. If taken in very high doses, acetaminophen can lead to liver damage. The drug is an ingredient in various allergy, pain and cold medications, so it’s important to check the labels of any drugs before taking them if you are allergic to acetaminophen.
If used incorrectly, ibuprofen can cause stomach ulcers, constipation, high blood pressure, kidney problems and heartburn. It is advised to avoid ibuprofen before and after surgery. Ibuprofen should not be taken if a patient is allergic to aspirin, other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or naproxen.
For both OTC medications, it’s always important to know the correct dosage to take, and when to stop. Taking too much acetaminophen can result in permanent liver damage. Taking too much ibuprofen can cause kidney damage and increases the risk of heart disease, heart attack and stroke.
Each drug has its own benefits over the other, but doctors suggest alternating between acetaminophen and ibuprofen to minimize any health risks and to amplify the advantages. Consult your physician to find out which medication is best for you, and make sure you follow the correct dosage instructions to avoid complications.
Dr. Jessica Pennington is with KentuckyOne Health Primary Care Associates.