Pain-relief primer

YOU’VE GOT a headache. Or you twisted your ankle. Perhaps you’re feverish. Different pains and ailments require different treatments. However, choosing the right painkiller off the shelf can be a headache-inspiring experience of its own.

There are three primary products for the prevention and treatment of pain and other related bodily miseries: aspirin, acetaminophen and ibuprofen. While they have some similarities, picking the wrong one may delay or hamper your recovery, or create new problems.


An anti-inflammatory drug as well as a painkiller, aspirin reduces swelling so that the pain is less likely to recur when the analgesic properties of the aspirin wear off.

Aspirin is also an anticoagulant, which means that it helps to keep the blood thin enough so as not to clot. People who have a history of heart attack or stroke and those at risk are often advised by their doctor to take small daily doses of aspirin as a preventive measure.

However, aspirin can induce gastrointestinal discomfort if taken in large enough doses. It can also cause Reye’s syndrome if taken by children and adolescents who are infected with a virus such as chicken pox or influenza.


Popular in part because it is less likely to cause stomach upset, acetaminophen is used for the relief of fever as well as aches and pains associated with many conditions.

Acetaminophen relieves pain in mild arthritis but, unlike aspirin, has no effect on the underlying inflammation, redness and swelling of the joint.

Acetaminophen began as a children’s medication and is still the preferred pain reliever for children because of the connection between Reye’s syndrome and aspirin.

Acetaminophen is metabolized by the liver. Its potential to harm the liver is increased when it is combined with alcohol.


Ibuprofen is twice as potent as aspirin as an anti-inflammatory.

Ibuprofen is an effective and well-tolerated analgesic for general use. It can provide relief from headaches, migraine, backache, dental pain, muscular pain, menstrual pain, cold and flu symptoms, and feverishness. Ibuprofen can cause stomach upset.

Naproxen sodium

There are also more specialized drugs for headaches and arthritis, including naproxen sodium. Naproxen sodium is a powerful, formerly prescription-only pain reliever. It works by inhibiting prostaglandins (the body’s chemical messengers), as aspirin does. But, also like aspirin, it can cause stomach upset and other gastrointestinal problems.

As with any medication, consult your physician or pharmacist about proper use.

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