With so many brand name over the counter pain relief medications on the market it’s often difficult to know which is the best for you to turn to when you need it. Walking down the average pain reliever aisle in your local drug store has turned into an adventure. As with so many other facets of American life, there are simply too many choices that are made more confusing by the fact that so many of them do the exact same thing.
Aspirin, of course, is the granddaddy of pain relievers. Literally. Aspirin has been been marketed as a pain reliever since the 19th century. That’s the 1800s. Aspirin was originally trademarked as a brand name by the German pharmaceutical giant Bayer, but a little unpleasantness now known as World War I pretty much put an end to that. Today aspirin is recognized not only in the traditional form still sold by Bayer, but also as Bufferin, Excedrin and many others.
The most effective uses of aspirin are for treating headaches, cramps and pain, as well as for reducing fever-but only in adults in that latter case. The problem stems from the fact that aspirin doesn’t sit too well in the stomach. Aspirin can cause bleeding of the stomach lining and therefore should be avoided by anyone suffering ulcers or any other kind abdominal inflammation. In addition, in severe cases aspirin can potentially cause fatal inflammation of the brain-known as Reye’s Syndrome-if it is taken by children who already are suffering from a common childhood viral infection such as chicken pox. As a general precaution, most health care professionals advise against anyone under the age of at least 16 taking aspirin to treat a fever, and yes that does include baby aspirin.
Ibuprofen benefits from being more conducive inside the stomach than aspirin for most people. Like aspirin it is most effective in treating inflammatory problems such as cramps and muscle aches. Although not as irritating to the stomach as aspirin, it is more likely to cause abdominal discomfort than acetaminophen. The main problem with ibuprofen is that it works at its best when it’s taken before the pain starts. Unfortunately, most of us aren’t psychic when it comes to headaches or cramping. However, if you know that certain weather conditions or foods are likely to cause a headache, or if you know that certain days during your period tend to be worse for cramping, you might want to go ahead and take some ibuprofen are a precaution. Unless you are one of those who suffer from abdominal problems, the occasional precautionary use shouldn’t hurt. Brand names include Advil, Motrin, and Nuprin.
Acetaminophen is the least likely culprit of all pain relievers to cause stomach problems. As with aspirin and ibuprofen, acetaminophen is good at providing relief from headaches. Also like aspirin it can reduce a fever. It does not generally work as well as either aspirin or ibuprofen when it comes to muscle soreness or pain in your joints, however. The dominating negative effect of acetaminophen is that it has been shown to damage the liver if taken in large quantities, so beware of overdosing.
Naproxen is the pain reliever to go to when you have a toothache. Studies have shown that naproxen helps to relieve the pain associated with toothaches far better, and with the relief lasting far longer than aspirin, ibuprofen, or acetaminophen. In fact, naproxen generally provides relief for any pain longer than the others, often as much as three or four times as long. Obviously, there is a price to be paid for this efficiency and naproxen tends to cost a little more, but when you take into account how long it provides relief, it more than evens out. In addition to toothaches, naproxen is also well suited to relieve pain associated with muscle soreness and joint stiffness experienced by those with arthritis. Naproxen is, like aspirin and ibuprofen, classified as a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), so it does have the potential for causing gastrointestinal distress. In addition, since all three bear similarities, it is wise to steer clear of them all if you suffer an allergic reaction to any one in particular.