What OTC pain reliever should I use?

Whether it's a headache, muscle ache or another form of acute or chronic pain, when discomfort arises most of us will reach for the nearest pain reliever without giving much thought to which one we're taking. In reality, the most common over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers have varying chemical compositions and while they may all have the singular goal of alleviating pain, they attack pain in differing ways and may have their own set of potential drawbacks.

OTC pain relievers are fully FSA/HSA eligible no restrictions, so if you're looking for a way to treat both acute and chronic pain issues, the following pain reliever guide can point you in the right direction. Here are the most common pain relievers on the market and an explanation of how their active ingredients combat your worst pain symptoms. And, of course, always consult your doctor first before using a medication regularly!

  1. Acetaminophen

Brand Names: Tylenol

Designed to Treat: Headaches, Pain, Fever

Recommended Dosage and Side Effects: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advises that individuals should only take 4,000 milligrams (mg) per day, while clinicians recommend a daily maximum dose of 3,000 mg for extended periods of time. Acetaminophen has potential for liver damage, but only if taken with other OTC medications that also contain acetaminophen. Those with severe liver disease should avoid taking acetaminophen.

What to Know: Acetaminophen is a non-steroid anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) and is a unique pain reliever in that it has anti-inflammatory qualities that could help combat fevers, so it is one of the most popular fever reducers on the market. Acetaminophen is a COX-2 Inhibitor, which means itworks by inhibiting the synthesis of chemical messengers called prostaglandins, which help to transmit pain signals and induce fever. The body produces prostaglandins in response to an injury or illness.

  1. Ibuprofen

Brand Names: Advil, Midol, Motrin

Designed to Treat: Arthritis pain, joint pain and headaches

Recommended Dosage and Side Effects: Adults should aim for 200 to 400 mg every 4-6 hours as needed to treat a wide variety of ailments, according to Drugs.com. The maximum daily allowance of OTC ibuprofen should be capped at 1200 mg/day. Ibuprofen carries a risk of side effects including stomach bleeding and kidney damage in those 60 years and older.

What to Know: Much like acetaminophen, ibuprofen is a COX-2 Inhibitor that relieves pain by targeting prostaglandins, which help to transmit pain signals arising from headaches, arthritis pain, joint pain, menstrual pain and more. As a NSAID, ibuprofen has proven anti-inflammatory qualities, and it also has a unique antiplatelet (anti-blood clotting) effect, though not as effective as aspirin.

  1. Aspirin

Brand Names: Bayer, Excedrin

Designed to Treat: Headaches, inflammatory pain and can support heart health

Recommended Daily Dosage and Side Effects: To treat pain-related maladies, the recommended adult dosage for aspirin is between 325 to 650 mg every four hours, and no more than 4 grams of aspirin should be taken in a 24 hour period, reports Drugs.com.

What to Know: Aspirin is among the most common pain relievers on the market to treat everything from headaches to chronic pain issues. As a COX-2 Inhibitor, it works in the same way as ibuprofen and acetaminophen by blocking pain signals from the brain, and it also is commonly used as a blood thinner. In addition to its role in relief of everyday pain maladies, aspirin can also be used for therapeutic use. A low-dose aspirin regimen (75 mgs per day)has been known to help prevent blood clots in patients who have experienced a recent coronary bypass operation, heart attack, stroke or Atrial fibrillation.

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