Picking a Pain Reliever: Which One Should You Take?
All pain relievers are not equal. Your local drugstore probably has an entire aisle devoted to nonprescription pain relievers, such as aspirin, acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), and so on. Many medicines can help relieve pain, but different types of pain relievers can have different side effects and potential risks.
Aspirin is actually the first of a type of drugs called nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). As the name suggests, NSAIDs reduce inflammation in addition to relieving pain. Aspirin is effective at relieving the pain of headaches, toothaches, muscular aches and pains, and minor aches and pains of arthritis.
The vast majority of people can take aspirin without experiencing any side effects. However, aspirin may upset your stomach. To minimize stomach upset, some aspirin products are buffered with an antacids or coated so the pills do not dissolve until they reach the small intestine. When taken long-term in high doses, aspirin may cause more serious stomach problems, such as bleeding and ulcers in your stomach and intestines. For this reason, people with ulcers should not take aspirin. Additionally, drinking alcohol while taking aspirin increases your risk of bleeding and ulcers in your stomach and intestines.
Children and teens should not take aspirin if they have a viral infection such as the flu because it can cause Reye’s syndrome in these age groups. Reye's syndrome is a rare disorder that may cause seizures, brain damage, and death.
In addition, people with the following conditions should not take aspirin:
- History of asthma, rhinitis, and nasal polyps, known as the aspirin triad
- Severe liver or kidney disease
- Bleeding disorder
- Aspirin or salicylate allergy
- Pregancy or lactation
Last reviewedMarch 2013by Brian Randall, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.