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Categories > Medication Management > Aspirin

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Choose the right painkiller

» Aspirin

» Ibuprofen

» Acetaminophen

» Naproxen

Aspirin therapy

If you take a baby aspirin daily to lower your risk of a heart attack or stroke, ask your healthcare provider what you should do when you need to take something for pain relief. He or she may recommend that you let a specified period of time pass before taking another OTC drug (like ibuprofen), so the drugs don’t interact.

Doubling up

You have a splitting headache and a horrible cold, so you swallow acetaminophen, then take some OTC cold medication. You may have just unwittingly taken twice the recommended dose of acetaminophen, since many cold medications contain painkillers. Read labels carefully to avoid this problem because too much acetaminophen can cause liver damage, and too much aspirin or ibuprofen can cause stomach bleeding. Accidentally combining painkillers (taking ibuprofen, then a cold remedy with acetaminophen) is also dangerous.

The pharmacy’s pain-relief aisle is chock-full of different over-the-counter (OTC) drugs that promise to ease your aches and pains, but not every painkiller is right for you. Most should help when you have a toothache or a pounding headache, but what if you have a sprained ankle or a fever? Read on to see what’s right for you, but if you are pregnant or have a serious medical condition, talk with your doctor before taking any medication.


When to use: It’s a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), which means it can help relieve swelling and inflammation associated with injuries or overuse. Aspirin helps headaches, too. Some migraine-relief medications combine aspirin, acetaminophen and caffeine.

When to avoid: Don’t give aspirin to children or teens; they may develop Reye’s syndrome, a health condition that affects all organs of the body. People with asthma or chronic nasal congestion may have an aspirin allergy; ask your doctor before using. Generally, pregnant women shouldn’t take aspirin as it may harm the fetus.


When to use: Like aspirin, ibuprofen is an NSAID, but it’s stronger and longer lasting than aspirin.

When to avoid: NSAIDs may cause stomach irritation and bleeding when taken too frequently.


When to use: Acetaminophen isn’t an NSAID, so it’s best-suited as a fever reducer and for pain relief not associated with swelling and inflammation.

When to avoid: Check with your doctor before taking this or any other OTC painkiller if you consume three or more alcoholic beverages daily.


When to use: This NSAID is also a longer-lasting alternative to aspirin but, like ibuprofen, it can cause stomach irritation.

When to avoid: Don’t give naproxen to children without a doctor’s OK.

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