“Take two aspiririn and call me in the morning.” The simplicity and effectiveness of pain medications has made them a staple of home health care. But there are differences among all the products that line multiple shelves at the pharmacy. Here’s how to select the right product for you and your aches.
Best For: Toothache, headache, postworkout soreness, sprains, back pain. Ibuprofen (e.g., Advil) blocks enzymes that produce inflammatory compounds called prostaglandins.
Take: 200 to 400 mg every four to six hours but no more than 1,200 mg in 24 hours.
Beware: It suppresses Inflammation so well that it may impede cold or flu recovery. A chronic imbalance of prostaglandins and other chemicals can raise your heart attack and stroke risk.
Best For: Tendinitis or bursitis, headache, body aches. Like ibuprofen, this Aleve ingredient is a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), which limits the production of prostaglandins.
Take: One or two 220 mg tablets every eight to 12 hours but no more than 660 mg in 24 hours.
Beware: Naproxen and ibuprofen increase sun sensitivity. And like other NSAIDs, they may cause GI side effects. Cardiac risk is uncertain, but check with your doctor if you have heart issues.
Best For: The same aches you’d use ibuprofen and naproxen to treat. This pill blocks production of both prostaglandins and cyclooxygenase, a precursor in the inflammatory process.
Take: One or two 325 mg tablets every four hours but no more than 4,000 mg in 24 hours.
Beware: GI risks include stomach ulcers. Aspirin also blocks a clotting compound, making bleeding hard to stop. Watch for swelling or trouble breathing; 1 percent of people are allergic.
Best For: Headache, fever, or any minor aches without swelling—acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol) doesn’t ease inflammation. It may work by blocking an enzyme in your nervous system.
Take: 325 to 1,000 mg every four to eight hours but no more than 3,900 mg in 24 hours.
Beware: Don’t use it for a hangover, or if you regularly have two or more drinks a day; it can damage your liver. Read the labels of cough and cold meds—many contain acetaminophen.