Over-the-counter pain medication is not one-size-fits-all. Explore the differences between the most common pain relievers.
An ache in your joints or a pounding headache may lead you to take the first pain reliever you find in your medicine cabinet. While many medications treat similar causes of pain, knowing possible drug interactions could save you from harmful side effects.
Best for: headaches, migraines, muscle pain, sore throats, toothaches and backaches. It may also be used to soothe osteoarthritis pain.
When to avoid: Your healthcare provider may have you avoid acetaminophen or monitor your dosage if you take blood thinners, seizure medications, medications for mental illness and nausea, or medications for coughs and colds. Do not take acetaminophen if you drink more than three alcoholic drinks per day.
Best for: relieving symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis and other rheumatic diseases. A physician may also prescribe aspirin to prevent heart attacks and ischemic strokes or treat rheumatic fever.
When to avoid: You may need to avoid aspirin if you take blood thinners or medications for diabetes or arthritis.
Best for: osteoarthritis pain, rheumatoid arthritis pain, headaches, muscles aches, toothaches and backaches
When to avoid: Do not take ibuprofen if you recently had a heart attack. Avoid ibuprofen if you take aspirin for heart attack or stroke prevention.
Best for: pain relief for rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, arthritis of the spine, bursitis, tendinitis and gouty arthritis
When to avoid: Don’t take naproxen if you have recently had a heart attack or stroke. Your healthcare provider may advise you to avoid naproxen if you have diabetes or high cholesterol, or if you smoke.
Practicing Medication Safety
Whether you take multiple medications or just a few, these tips can help you stick to your medication routine and avoid accidental overdose:
- Make a list. Write down every medication you take, including prescriptions, over-the-counter medicines, vitamins and supplements.
- Bring a list of medications to each provider. Make sure all healthcare providers you visit have an updated copy of your medication list. This helps them monitor doses and look for possible drug interactions.
- Stay organized. Track daily medications with a pill organizer, pill dispenser or medicine record. Take your medications at the same time each day as designated, such as when you brush your teeth or eat breakfast.
- Understand new prescriptions. Before you take any new medication, ask your provider to explain all possible side effects and how to properly take it.