Choosing an Over-the-Counter Pain Medication

Although the drug store aisle is packed with pain medications, you really have a choice of only two main drugs types—acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NASAIDs).

Acetaminophen (Tylenol) relieves mild to moderate pain from muscle aches, headaches, colds, sore throats, arthritis, backaches and menstrual periods. It also reduces fever. To reduce the potential for side effects, a daily dose of 2000 mg or less is recommended.

Aspirin is the oldest of the NASAID group of pain medications. While it is used to treat mild to moderate pain and fever, it is also used to help prevent heart attacks and stroke in patients who have already had a heart attack or stroke. Avoid giving aspirin to children as it has been linked to Reye’s syndrome, a rare but serious condition that causes swelling in the liver and brain.

Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and Naproxen Sodium (Aleve) are two other NASAID pain medications. They also relieve mild to moderate pain and reduce fever. Unlike acetaminophen, NASAIDs are also good at reducing swelling and inflammation.

“While both types of medication are effective at relieving pain, not everyone responds to medica-tion the same way,” says Jerry Gonzales, NorthBay
pharmacy director. “If one type of medication doesn’t work for you, try the other. But remember, just because they are sold without a prescription doesn’t mean they aren’t strong drugs.”

If you are taking other medications, be sure to ask your doctor or pharmacist if pain medications are safe to mix.

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