Features August 2012 Issue

Over-the-Counter Painkillers: What You Need to Know

Those pain-relieving meds you find on pharmacy shelves aren’t all alike. Some reduce pain, others reduce inflammation, some do both. Here’s how they compare.

Over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications are effective, inexpensive, and different. Before you take another dose of acetaminophen, aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen, make sure you know if it’s for pain, inflammation (or both), if there’s any reason you should limit its use, or whether you should quit taking it altogether. “I continue to be surprised by the number of people who do not distinguish between acetaminophen [example Tylenol] and ibuprofen [example Advil] and use them interchangeably,” says Daniel J. Mazanec, MD, Associate Director, Cleveland Clinic Center for Spine Health. “The risk of accidental overdose with excessive acetaminophen is the major reason the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has recently considered withdrawing combination products from the market.

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