How Many Over-the-Counter Pain Relievers Do You Really Need?

Consumers are faced with a wide variety of choices when they walk through the pain-reliever section of their local pharmacy. Many shoppers wonder how many of these compounds they should keep on hand, or if one medication is sufficient for a variety of uses. Here’s a short guide to help you determine which pain reliever is most critical for your needs:



Aspirin, pharmaceutical name acetylsalicylic acid, is one of the oldest commercial pain relievers ever developed. Since its commercial production in the 1890s, it has been one of the most popular pain relievers in history, used for a wide variety of minor aches and pains. Because it also has anti-inflammatory properties, it is used to reduce fever from colds and the flu. In addition, studies show that an 81-milligram dose of aspirin each day can help to prevent heart attacks and strokes. Many physicians recommended this dose, the amount in a baby aspirin tablet, for their patients.


Aspirin also has a number of drawbacks. Aspirin can erode the protective enzymes in the stomach lining, leaving it vulnerable to ulcers and other problems. Aspirin compounds, taken over long periods of time, can cause liver or kidney problems. Aspirin can also increase bleeding, and may interact with other medications you are taking. Always consult your physician before taking aspirin to ensure safety. Although many other pain relievers are available, many people still choose aspirin for headache and colds, because of its ability to provide fast relief.



Tylenol, generic name acetaminophen, is a good all-purpose pain reliever for a variety of conditions, such as headache, backache, muscle aches and dental pain. Physicians often recommended this compound for minor pain and fever. However, acetaminophen can have toxic effects on the liver and should not be taken continuously. Individuals with liver or kidney disease should discuss the use of acetaminophen with their physicians before using it. Tylenol does not reduce underlying inflammation, so it is not the most effective choice for those with arthritis pain or other inflammatory conditions.



Ibuprofen is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) medication that is often recommended for muscle pain, joint pain, dental pain and menstrual cramps. It works by blocking a chemical substance that produces inflammation, pain and fever.

Some studies indicate that the long-term use of ibuprofen can cause increased risk of heart attack and stroke. You should always consult with your physician before using ibuprofen for minor pain and fever.



Naproxen is an over-the-counter pain reliever that is often recommended for underlying inflammatory conditions. This compound generally takes longer to relieve pain effectively, but it also lasts longer, and so requires fewer doses throughout the day.  Like other NSAID medications, naproxen can have effects on liver function. It can also cause hives, ringing in the ears and severe water retention in some individuals. Naproxen use can cause increased risk for heart attack and stroke. Gastrointestinal bleeding and perforation has been reported in some individuals.


As with all medications, consumers must balance the benefits and risks of the use of over-the-counter pain medications. These compounds should only be used for as long as is necessary to control symptoms, and you should always consult your physicians about any questions you may have about their use.



HealthStatus has been operating since 1998 providing the best interactive health tools on the Internet, millions of visitors have used our health risk assessment, body fat and calories burned calculators. The HealthStatus editorial team has continued that commitment to excellence by providing our visitors with easy to understand high quality health content for many years.

User Reviews


Your email address will not be published

2 + 13 =