If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably wondered what the best option is between the three primary painkillers that are available over-the-counter in the US: Advil (ibuprofen), Tylenol (acetaminophen), or Aleve (naproxen)?
Each drug has its benefits, with some possessing more drawbacks than others.
Advil, which is the same thing as Ibuprofen, is an NSAID, or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug. This basically means that it reduces inflammation and, in my experience, can therefore be very helpful for muscle pain, spasms, and tightness. Ibuprofen seems to be more effective for these types of muscle aches than the other two. Also, ibuprofen appears to be easier on the liver than acetaminophen.
Tylenol is very effective at reducing both pain and fever. It has certainly been effective for me during an illness, especially at night, in order to reduce aches and fever simultaneously. This makes it an integral part of the NyQuil and DayQuil Cold/Flu medicines formulas. You must keep in mind, however, that Tylenol appears to be more taxing on the organs, especially on the liver, than Advil and Aleve. An article from the Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide states that “even supposedly safe amounts of acetaminophen — doses close to 4,000 milligrams (mg) per day, the current daily limit — may be quite toxic to the liver in a small number of people.” So exercise caution when using Tylenol/acetaminophen – It’s probably a much better idea to take the least amount necessary and stay well away from doses near this suggested daily limit. And definitely do not take it with alcohol unless “increased risk of liver damage” is something you aspire to achieve.
Aleve seems to have the longest duration of action of the three main pain tablets. In my personal experience, two tablets of Aleve has the same efficacy as larger amounts, so it is economical as there is little reason to take large amounts. In addition, Aleve seems to tackle a variety of pain and discomfort issues – One of my favorite uses of this painkiller is when I am hungover! It has a tendency to help a great deal with the full-body discomfort and headaches associated with a hangover.
The Bottom Line
So what’s the bottom line and which OTC painkiller should you choose? There really is no clear-cut answer as to which medicine is right for you. The best course of action is to try each of them and assess their effectiveness on the particular type of pain that you suffer from. Here is a good place to start: