Pain Relievers

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Over-the-Counter Pills

With all the many different over-the-counter pain relievers on the market now, it can be hard to know what to take when, don’t you agree? For example, if you get an ache in your back, can you take the same pain reliever you use whenever you get a headache? And even if the pain reliever is effective at relieving both, is there something else you can take that would work even better or faster?

Get acquainted with a few of the most common OTC pain relievers you’re likely to find at your neighborhood pharmacy.


Sold as: Tylenol, or generic
Treats: Headache; joint pain; back, neck or shoulder pain; common cold; fever
What it does: Acetaminophen is a mild analgesic with weak anti-inflammatory properties. It’s often a major ingredient in cold and flu medications or treatments and sometimes prescribed post-surgery or for advanced cancer patients. Pain relief comes quickly, usually taking effect in less than 30 minutes.
Caution: As with all medications, monitor your usage carefully: A too-high dosage or prolonged daily use of acetaminophen can lead to damage of the liver or kidneys, or stomach bleeding. Also, the side effects of acetaminophen are multiplied when taken with alcohol.


Sold as: Aspirin (capitalized) and aspirin (lowercased)
Treats: Back, neck or shoulder pain; fever; inflammatory diseases; neuropathic pain; tension and migraine headaches
What it does: Aspirin is an analgesic that alleviates minor aches and pains, reduces fever and acts as an anti-inflammatory agent. There’s also evidence to suggest it may be effective at preventing heart attacks, strokes and blood clots.
Caution: Aspirin is not very effective at relieving muscle cramps or bloating, and has been shown to increase the risk of gastrointestinal ulcers.
One more thing: The lowercased term “aspirin” is a generic term in several countries, including the United States; however, Aspirin, with a capital “A” is a registered trademark of Bayer in more than 80 countries.


Sold as: Advil, Motrin, or generic
Treats: Headache; sore muscles; back, neck or shoulder pain; joint pain; fever
What it does: Ibuprofen can relieve pain, reduce fever, or alleviate arthritis symptoms, typically taking effect in less than 30 minutes. Unlike aspirin, which dissolves when it comes in contact with a solution, ibuprofen remains intact, meaning it can be applied topically, as well as taken orally. Ibuprofen is also less likely than aspirin to cause gastrointestinal bleeding.
Caution: Adverse effects include nausea, hypertension, fluid retention, dizziness, constipation, diarrhea and others.

So there you have it — a quick rundown of what’s what. But no matter your ailment, the best think you can do for yourself is ask your doctor which pain reliever would work best for your situation. Educate yourself so you can start feeling better sooner, rather than later.

Image via e-Magine Art on Flickr.

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