Question

Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs

What's the difference between ibuprofen and acetaminophen?

A Answers (2)

  • AStacy Wiegman, PharmD, Pharmacy, answered

    Ibuprofen and acetaminophen differ in how they work to treat fever, inflammation and pain. Ibuprofen is an NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug) that prevents the body and the brain from producing a hormone-like chemical called prostaglandin. Prostaglandin in the brain is involved in producing fever and prostaglandin in the body is involved in tissue inflammation and the pain that it triggers. Therefore, ibuprofen can reduce fever, pain and inflammation. Acetaminophen is an analgesic (painkiller) and antipyretic (fever reducer) that works in the brain by a mechanism that is not certain. It appears to increase the pain threshold which is the amount of pain it takes for the brain to perceive the pain. It inhibits prostaglandin in the brain only where it is involved in producing fever. Therefore, acetaminophen can reduce fever and pain, but not inflammation.

  • ADarria Long Gillespie, MD, Emergency Medicine, answered
    These are two totally different families of medicines that work in different ways. They each have their pros and cons.
     
    Ibuprofen (Advil/Motrin) is an NSAID that blocks inflammation.
    Benefit: It’s great if you have a muscle strain or tear, or arthritis.
    Negative: It can irritate the lining of your gut, could damage your kidneys and may increase your risk of bleeding. Also, if you’re pregnant, you should talk with your doctor before taking it.
     
    Acetaminophen (Tylenol)
    Benefit: It’s helpful for relieving all kinds of pain and fever, although it does not reduce swelling and inflammation the same way that ibuprofen does.
    Negative: It can harm your liver if you take too much.
     
    So, no medication is without side effects.
     
    For me, if I have an injury or strain to a muscle or bone, I take ibuprofen. If I have a headache, sinus pressure or fever from an illness such as the flu, I usually stick to acetaminophen. No matter what you take, never take more than the amount advised on the box.
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