You wake up with a terrible headache, a sore muscle or yesterday’s sunburn is bothering you, and shuffle your way to your medicine cabinet.
You open the cabinet and hope to find something to help with the pain and discomfort. But you find yourself faced with three choices: Advil (ibuprofen), Aleve (naproxen) and Tylenol.
Which one should you take? What are the differences to consider before taking?
“All of these painkillers are useful to treat pain and reduce fever, which is why they’re such common occurrences in households,” said Prof. David E. Potter from Texas A&M Health Science Center.
“However, there are some situations where one of these medicines may work better than others.”
To help decide when to choose which of these common over-the-counter painkillers, Potter offers the following information:
Acetaminophen (Tylenol’s generic name) is a popular option for treating cold and flu, but Potter warns that users need to be aware of how much they take in a day.
Since Tylenol is often combined with other over-the-counter cold medications that contain fever-reducing ingredients, people may end up taking multiple doses and exceeding the daily limitations.
“Different from other painkillers, Tylenol has a definite dosage ceiling of 325 milligrams per pill or capsule. Additionally, people should take less than 3000 milligrams per day, or they might begin to hurt their liver,” Potter warned.
People with liver disease, or who have drunk alcohol regularly, should be especially wary of the dosage they take as unintentional overdosing can result in severe liver damage or even failure.
Fortunately, these serious problems can be avoided if treated within 24 hours. Potter explains that the most common symptoms of overdose are lethargy (a sluggish state) and nausea or vomiting.
If an individual exhibits these symptoms, they should seek medical help within 24 hours, if possible.
Unlike its counterparts, Tylenol does not possess any anti-inflammatory effects. For injuries like a sprain or discomfort from arthritis, Tylenol will not treat the pain as effectively as Advil or Aleve.
However, in the case of viral infections in young children and infants, Tylenol can lower temperature effectively.
In these situations, Tylenol is a better option to reduce fever than aspirin. In all cases, be sure to adjust the dosage accordingly for the child’s age.
Ibuprofen (Advil) and naproxen sodium (Aleve)
As far as anti-inflammatories go, ibuprofen and naproxen sodium have almost identical attributes.
The main differences between the two are the active duration of each dose – naproxen sodium is advertised as lasting almost four hours longer than ibuprofen – and that naproxen causes a higher sensitivity to light.
For injuries or inflammation, either ibuprofen or naproxen can reduce inflammation or swelling and manage the pain.
However, in the case of prolonged exposure to the sun or tanning, ibuprofen is probably a better alternative to naproxen.
Although most people have these medications or are aware of them, Potter suggests that not everybody should use these as their primary form of pain management.
“With ibuprofen and naproxen, there are higher incidences of gastrointestinal (GI) bleeding or ulcers that can occur in people predisposed to peptic ulcer disease.”
“When taking either medication, it’s recommended that individuals take them with food to help with any GI discomfort.”
“People who have GI disorders should try to avoid ibuprofen or naproxen so as not to damage to their intestinal lining,” Potter said.
So if you wake up with a headache, any one of the three will help manage pain.
If you’re combatting sore muscles or arthritis, either ibuprofen or naproxen are your best bet to treat inflammation; and if that sunburn is bothering you, or you like to use suntan beds, stick with ibuprofen or Tylenol.
News source: Texas A&M University. The content is edited for length and style purposes.
Figure legend: This Knowridge.com image is credited to Eric Norris.