Question

Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs

What's the difference between ibuprofen and acetaminophen?

A Answers (2)

  • A Stacy 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.

  • A Dr. Darria 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 part of a class of medications called Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory medications. Not surprisingly, they reduce inflammation.
    Benefit: NSAIDs are great for any pain or swelling, especially due to trauma (such as a fracture or tear), a sprain, or arthritis.   
    Negative: It can irritate the lining of your gut, could damage your kidneys and may increase your risk of bleeding. Also, the FDA recently strengthened an existing warning on prescription and over-the-counter NSAIDs for a small but significant increased risk of heart attack or stroke.  Of course, women who are pregnant should speak with their doctor before taking NSAIDs. 

    Acetaminophen (Tylenol)
    Benefit: Acetaminophen is helpful for relieving all kinds of pain and fever, although it doesn’t reduce swelling and inflammation the same targeted way that ibuprofen does.
    Negative: As is the case with all medications, Acetaminophen has its own side effects, most notably that taking too much can damage your liver.  

    Unfortunately, no medication is without side effects, but when taken as prescribed, both of these will be safe for the majority of people.  

    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, try to always take the lowest effective dose, and never take more than the amount advised on the box.
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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.
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