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Ibuprofen or Acetaminophen? Which to Take and Why

You may have both in your home, but do you really know which painkiller is the best for any given ailment or health issue?

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You probably have both in your medication cabinet, but do you really know which painkiller is the best for any given ailment? Acetaminophen (Tylenol®) and ibuprofen (Advil® or Motrin®) are often looked at as interchangeable. While that may hold true under certain circumstances, it’s good to know their strengths and weaknesses.

Ibuprofen or acetaminophen for headaches.

Acetaminophen has developed a reputation for being the better of the two for headaches. In the case that you don’t have any, ibuprofen can be a good substitute.   

Ibuprofen or acetaminophen for babies and pregnancy.

The American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend ibuprofen for infants six months and younger. Women who are pregnant should generally avoid ibuprofen as well. Acetaminophen is fine for infants younger than six months of age and pregnant women.

Ibuprofen or acetaminophen for fevers.

Both medications can be used to fight fevers. Some studies favor ibuprofen, but for many, it really comes downs to preference and whether you feel the side effects from either medication.

Ibuprofen or acetaminophen for swelling.

Ibuprofen is the clear winner here because it is an anti-inflammatory. So, if you sprain an ankle or experience swelling, take ibuprofen.   

Ibuprofen or acetaminophen for general body aches.

Once again, ibuprofen may have a slight edge because it reduces inflammation and may help with these conditions:

  • Backaches
  • Menstrual cramps
  • Sore muscles
  • Earaches and toothaches

And if you don’t have ibuprofen, acetaminophen can still help reduce pain for these same ailments. If you’re fighting the common cold, be sure to check labels on other medication before taking more acetaminophen as many contain it already.

Possible side effects of ibuprofen:

  • Can be hard on the digestive system (do not take on empty stomach)
  • May harm baby in final months of pregnancy, according to drugs.com
  • Mild skin irritation
  • Dizziness

Possible side effects of acetaminophen:

  • Mild skin irritation
  • Dizziness or trouble breathing
  • May cause liver damage if 4,000 mg is taken in 24 hours

With both medications, allergic reactions are possible. Stop use immediately and contact a doctor if you suspect a reaction. Because the pain killers act differently in your body, you can alternate the use of them every few hours (be sure not to exceed daily limits on labels). Understanding the difference between ibuprofen and acetaminophen can help you make better decisions about self-care. Check out other healthy living articles here.

 

SelectHealth refers to some of the drugs in this blog post by their respective trademarks, but SelectHealth does not own those trademarks; the manufacturer or supplier of each drug owns the drug’s trademark. By listing these drugs, SelectHealth does not endorse or sponsor any drug, manufacturer, or supplier. And these manufacturers and suppliers do not endorse or sponsor any SelectHealth service or plan and are not affiliated with SelectHealth.

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