You’re in pain and you want to make your day a little more tolerable, so you’re at the store to pick up an over-the-counter (OTC) remedy. But, you’re faced with a staggering number of options provided by big name and generic brands. Which pain reliever should you get?
The kind of OTC you get depends on what ails you. Some help with headaches, others are better at reducing swelling.
What Is the Best OTC Pain Reliever for You?
Here’s an overview of the main OTC pain medication types and what they’re good—and bad—for.
Considered an NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug), aspirin treats aches and pains like headaches and toothaches. It is also good for making you feel less achy when you have a cold, getting rid of fevers and bringing swelling down.
Pros: Aspirin slows the formation of blood clots. Doctors often recommend that certain patients take an aspirin a day to lower the risk of strokes and heart attacks.
Cons: Sometimes aspirin can cause an upset stomach and, though rare, it can also lead to intestinal or stomach bleeding. Children suffering from a viral infection should not be given aspirin because its been linked to Reye’s syndrome, which can adversely affect the brain and liver.
Like Aspirin, Ibuprofen is an NSAID. If you have a fever, inflammation or general aches and pains, this could be the medication for you. It’s good for treating backaches, arthritis, menstrual cramps, headaches, toothaches, sprains and more.
Pros: Ibuprofen is stronger than aspirin and a good over-all pain killer.
Cons: Ibuprofen’s potency comes with a higher risk for side effects, and except for aspirin, NSAIDS shouldn’t be taken by people with kidney or gastrointestinal problems. Alcohol should be avoided.
Naproxen is the strongest over-the-counter pain reliever available today. As an NSAID, its anti-inflammatory qualities make it good for acute pain due to injury.
Pros: A stronger solution for more severe pain, naproxen may be good for dealing with pain such as menstrual cramps, headaches, arthritis, backaches, toothaches and colds.
Cons: Like all NSAIDs, naproxen has a higher risk for stomach issues is higher.
This medication can reduce fever and ease pain. Not an NSAID, acetaminophen does not reduce swelling or inflammation. It’s mainly good for headaches, fever or arthritis pain.
Pros: Acetaminophen has the lowest risk among OTC pain relievers of causing stomach problems.
Cons: Take too much of it over time (more than 4.000 milligrams per day for adults) and acetaminophen can damage the liver. Don’t take it if you’re taking another medication, prescription or OTC, that has acetaminophen as an ingredient.
Be sure to check with your doctor before taking NSAIDS, which should not be taken if you’re already taking an anti-inflammatory, are at risk for kidney problems, have high blood pressure, have a history of heart disease in your family, have had stomach ulcers or take blood thinners.
This article can give you more information. As with any health concern, ask your doctor which OTC medications to use or avoid.