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How do I Choose the Best Non-Prescription Pain Relievers?

By Meshell Powell
Updated May 17, 2024
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Non-prescription pain relievers are medications that can be purchased without a prescription and are designed to treat mild to moderate pain and fever. Some types of non-prescription pain relievers, known as NSAIDs, may also help reduce inflammation. NSAIDs are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and include aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen sodium. Acetaminophen relieves pain and fever but does not contain anti-inflammatory properties. Choosing the best non-prescription pain relievers is based on individual symptoms, the condition being treated, and the overall health of the patient.

Aspirin is one of the most widely used non-prescription pain relievers among adults, although it is not typically recommended for use in young children. In addition to relieving the symptoms of pain, inflammation, and fever, aspirin may be able to relieve mild itching in some people. As is the case with any medication, there are possible side effects associated with the use of aspirin, including irritation of the stomach lining. If stomach upset occurs, there are aspirin formulations that have a safety coating to help reduce the chances of stomach irritation.

Some doctors may recommend daily doses of aspirin to reduce the risks of heart attacks and strokes in patients who have a higher than normal risk of developing these medical emergencies. Those who are taking prescription medications designed to thin the blood may not be able to take products containing aspirin. Unfortunately, aspirin may not interact well with several prescription medications, so it is important to consult a doctor to determine whether this medication is appropriate.

Ibuprofen and naproxen sodium are also non-prescription pain relievers that may help to reduce inflammation while treating pain and fever. Like aspirin, these medications may cause stomach irritation, nausea, and heartburn. Some of these symptoms may be lessened by taking these pain relievers with food or with a glass of milk. Those who are allergic to aspirin may not be able to take ibuprofen or naproxen sodium.

Acetaminophen is among the most popular choices of non-prescription pain relievers. Acetaminophen helps to reduce fever and treat mild to moderate pain, but unlike the non-prescription pain relievers known as NSAIDs, it does not reduce inflammation. Fortunately, this also means that it does not have the same side effects of these medications. This is often the only one of the non-prescription pain relievers that is approved for use during pregnancy. Some of the possible side effects of acetaminophen include kidney or liver failure, but this tends to occur only with long-term use or abuse of this medication.

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