Today is a moderately high but not overbearingly painful pain day, and I don't always like to take prescription medications when I can get some relief with more natural or over-the-counter (OTC) methods (aka: unnecessarily damage my liver/kidneys and/or waste the good pills when I don't need to, lol).
Now, as someone with no medical training and a terrible memory, I have a hard time knowing what OTC medication to take for what, but as a person with a chronic pain syndrome, I probably should. So, as any thirty-something would do, I took my questions to the internet! Check out what I've found below!
Disclaimer: I am obviously not any kind of expert on anything- please don't take any of the below information as such. Remember to always read the dosage instructions on all medications and use them responsibly and as directed. When comparing pain relievers it is important to consider the advantages and disadvantages of each. Also: not all pain relievers are appropriate for everyone. Consider your health conditions, and always consult a physician before taking any medication. If you have questions, consult your doctor or a pharmacist.
That being said, please enjoy the results of my Google research:
So, What is an NSAID, Anyway?
All I knew about NSAIDs was something about blood thinning or stomach bleeding if you took too many (or something like that), so you're not supposed to take more than one NSAID medication at a time. As it turns out, there's a bit more to it than that, lol.
Apparently there are basically two types of OTC non-prescription painkillers: acetaminophen (Tylenol) and NSAIDs (which stands for non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, and covers pretty much every other OTC pain med brand that isn't Tylenol).
NSAIDs work by reducing the level of hormone-like substances called prostaglandins that your body makes which irritate your nerve endings and increase the perception of pain, fever, redness and inflammation that may occupy injury sites in your body. Prostaglandins are also are part of the system that helps your body control its temperature.
NSAIDs are helpful for:
There are several types of NSAIDs, including:
It's worth mentioning that NSAIDs may cause an upset stomach as well as increased bruising or risk of bleeding in the stomach, and when taken for a long time, they may cause kidney damage. Also, NSAIDs can interact with blood pressure medicines so if you take one of these medicines and an NSAID, your medicine may not work as well as it should. Also, children and teenagers younger than 18 years of age should not take aspirin as it increases the risk of Reye’s Syndrome, a serious illness that can lead to death.
More on Aspirin (ie: Bayer, Bufferin, St. Joseph)
The active ingredient in Aspirin is acetylsalicylic acid which reacts with your blood chemistry to inhibit the volume of prostaglandins in the body.
It does have drawbacks such as upset stomach, heartburn, and dyspepsia, and can be hard on the gut, liver, and kidney. This medication is NOT recommended for hemophiliacs because of its anticoagulant (blood “thinning” agent) or for children (linked to Reye’s syndrome). For your safety, do not take more than 4,000 mg in 24 hours. If you take more than directed or for longer than directed, the risk of stomach bleeding increases.
That being said, Aspirin is still the most common over-the-counter pain reliever and when prescribed by a doctor and taken every day, a small dose of aspirin can help lower the risk of heart attack or stroke for some people.
More on Ibuprofen (ie: Advil, Motrin)
Ibuprofen and Aspirin work the same way in the body because both inhibit the production of prostaglandins. Because Ibuprofen inhibits prostaglandins which exert a protective effect on the stomach lining, it increases the chances of an upset stomach, so like acetaminophen, Ibuprofen can play a role in stomach upset, the most common side effect of both aspirin and ibuprofen. However, ibuprofen is a happy medium on the “stomach-upset scale” between Aspirin (more irritating) and Tylenol (less irritating).
It's important to note that Ibuprofen carries most of the same risks as aspirin but is often available in higher doses, which can be even harder on your body. It’s also fast-acting and fast-fading, which might lead to more frequent doses. In general, anyone who should avoid aspirin for any reason should also avoid ibuprofen—and vice versa. Both drugs generally work the same way with similar side effects. If you take more than directed or for longer than directed, the risk of stomach bleeding increases; for your safety, do not take more than 1,200 mg in 24 hours.
More on Naproxen (ie: Aleve)
Naproxen, like other NSAIDs, works by temporarily preventing your body from releasing prostaglandins. It is slow to kick in but longer lasting than ibuprofen, making it a good choice for people with mild-to-moderate chronic pain.
Like all NSAIDs, naproxen carries some cardiovascular risk and is associated with stomach distress. For your safety, do not take more than 660 mg in 24 hours.
So What's Different About Acetaminophen ?
Acetaminophen (ie: Tylenol) was introduced in the late 50’s and seems to work on the parts of the brain that receive pain messages by encouraging the brain to stop sending pain signals. Like NSAIDs, it also works with the part that controls body temperature.
Acetaminophen shares Aspirin’s ability to relieve mild-to-moderate pain and to reduce fever, but it lacks aspirin’s anti-inflammatory effect. Although it can relieve the pain caused by inflammation, it can’t reduce the inflammation itself. As a result, it won’t do much for arthritis and sprains.
Acetaminophen is helpful for:
The advantage to Acetaminophen is that it is considered a “safer” alternative for those who have a sensitive stomach, making it the best headache treatment for people with acid reflux disease or ulcers. Acetaminophen is also safer for children than aspirin, but because of its many known combinations with sleeping agents, always read the label carefully.
It's worth noting that taking too much acetaminophen (more than 3,000 mg in 24 hours), or mixing acetaminophen and alcohol, can lead to liver damage, and acetominophen is one of the drugs most frequently involved in overdose. Check the bottle to find out the maximum safe dose, and take it seriously.
Another note worthy difference is that while consuming alcohol it is NOT recommended to take Acetaminophen in any dosages because the liver becomes more susceptible to damage. Doctors also argue that acetaminophen is easier to overdose than its peers which could result in fatality.
Notes on OTC Mixed-Meds
Some products contain both acetaminophen and aspirin (ie: Excedrin, Vanquish), and they typically contain caffeine as well. Because of this, they are usually good for treating headaches.
I've also read that taking 500mg of acetaminophen and 500mg of ibuprofen together works as well as an opioid- but I've also seen conflicting reports on dosages (such as 400 mg of ibuprofen and 1000 mg of acetaminophen) and over what period of time you should take them, so who knows. It probably depends from person to person.
Similarly, while ibuprofen and acetaminophen contain different active ingredients, there may be times when these OTC pain relievers can be taken together, however you should always talk to your healthcare professional before taking more than one type of medicine in 24 hours.
I hope you found this gathered information helpful, and we'll continue to share tips like this in the future!
-FSC Founder and Fabulous Fibro-Fighter-