Learn the Differences Between Pain Relievers

Not all over-the–counter (OTC) pain medications are appropriate for everyone. There are 2 main types—and understanding the differences between them could matter to your health.

There may seem to be dozens of choices on store shelves, but there really are only 2 main types of over-the-counter (OTC) oral pain relievers: acetaminophen and NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). Examples of oral NSAIDs include: ibuprofen, naproxen (sodium) and acetylsalicylic acid. They may all relieve the same symptoms, but they work differently in your body and have different active ingredients, warnings, and dosing directions. One type may be more appropriate for you, based on your age, health conditions, and other medicines you currently take. It’s important to understand pain reliever differences so that you can help select an appropriate choice for you. When in doubt, check with a healthcare professional.


Two Main Pain Relievers

What to know about WARNINGS

OTC pain relievers have different warnings on their labels about possible side effects. These differences are important to understand because they can affect your health. For example:


  • Taking more than the maximum recommended daily dose (more than 4,000 mg in 24 hours) could cause severe or possibly fatal liver damage

  • If you are taking warfarin-containing blood thinning drugs, ask a doctor or pharmacist before use

  • If you have liver disease, ask a doctor before use


  • Can increase your chance of stomach bleeding

  • If you have high blood pressure or heart failure, you should ask your doctor or pharmacist before using an NSAID

  • If you take daily low dose Aspirin® (81-325 mg) for daily preventative therapy, ibuprofen may decrease that heart health benefit

Important: This is not intended to be a complete listing of warnings or to replace the information on product labelling or advice given by a healthcare professional.

Check the Drug Facts table on your medicine’s carton for a full list of warnings. Download a guide to Drug Facts table

What to know about DOSING DIRECTIONS

The most common oral OTC pain relievers—acetaminophen, ibuprofen, naproxen sodium and acetylsalicylic acid —all have different dosing directions. It is not appropriate to apply the directions on the label of one pain reliever to another. To be sure you’re taking the right amount of your pain reliever and at the right time, always read and follow the product label. Download and print the adult pain reliever dosing chart and keep it with your medicines.