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Painkillers: aspirin, acetaminophen, ibuprofen, which one suits you?

Not all over-the-counter painkillers are the same, Here we help you choose the one that suits you best. Ibuprofen or acetaminophen? Tylenol, aspirin, Advil, Motrin, Aleve? And those are just some of the best-known names. Choosing from so many offers of over-the-counter painkillers on pharmacy shelves is not easy. So that you do not choose blindly, we offer you a guide with the advantages and contraindications of each one.

You may not even think twice about seeking relief from that constant headache, or joint pain, and taking any painkillers you have in your medicine cabinet. A couple of capsules of Tylenol, for example, and the pain goes away, at least for the moment. But do not take it lightly. There are differences between these pain relievers, even over-the-counter (OTC), and some may even hurt you in the short or long term, especially if you have any prior medical conditions, or are taking other medications medicines.

In order to get to know them better, we have grouped them into three large families according to their active ingredient and we explain their advantages and disadvantages as well as the contraindications. These three groups are:

  • A) Aspirin (or acetylsalicylic acid).
  • B) Acetaminophen or acetaminophen (paracetamol)
  • C) Ibuprofen

Here are the main features that will help you decide which one suits you best according to your state of health:

Aspirin works by preventing the release of a substance called prostaglandin and does so in two ways. What happens is that cells that respond to pain or are damaged produce an enzyme called cyclooxygenase-2 which, in turn, produces prostaglandin. The prostaglandin tells the brain where it hurts. The affected area where the prostaglandin is produced also reacts by swelling. What aspirin does is that it acts on cyclooxygenase-2, sticks to it and prevents it from producing porstaglandin. In this way it prevents or decreases inflammation and reduces, prevents or causes the pain to disappear. Another effect of aspirin is that it prevents accumulation and deposition of platelets (cells that we have in the blood) inside the blood vessels blocking a compound called thromboxane. Platelets are needed for clotting but when they build up inside the vessels they can form clots. And finally, through substances called interleukins or interleukins that acts on the hypothalamus (an area of ​​the brain that controls body temperature) to help lower the fever.

Is used to:

  • Relieve headaches, muscle aches, arthritis, etc.
  • Lower the fever.
  • Reduce inflammation.
  • Reduce the risk of strokes and heart attacks by reducing the chance that blood platelets form clots.

You should not use it:

  • If you have heartburn problems in your stomach, especially if you have or have had ulcers. Aspirin irritates the walls of the stomach, and if you take it excessively, it can cause heartburn, pain, nausea and even gastrointestinal bleeding. In some cases, bleeding can lead to anemia.
  • If you are pregnant, especially in the last three months of pregnancy. It is also not recommended to take it if you are breastfeeding.
  • If you suffer from a bleeding disease, such as hemophilia or severe liver conditions, because your ability to break down clots (favorable in cases of strokes and heart attacks) prevents blood from clotting properly. For the same reason, you should not take aspirin either before or immediately after surgery.
  • If you have gout (which is a disease that causes pain in the joints due to a rise in uric acid). Aspirin raises uric acid levels in the blood.
  • In children and adolescents, they can develop Reye’s syndrome, a disorder that affects different parts of the body and can lead to death.

Acetaminophen

It is the generic name for several known analgesics (pain medicines), such as Tylenol, Panadol, Paracetamol, among others (depending on where you live). Acetaminophen works by affecting the brain and spinal cord, which alters the perception of pain. It is similar to endorphins, a hormone produced by the brain that prevents the sensation of pain from being transmitted from cell to cell. Like aspirin, acetaminophen limits the production of prostaglandin, but only in the brain (aspirin limits it throughout the body). Because of that, acetaminophen does not reduce inflammation, and not relieving is so potent to reduce arthritis or muscle pains, or that of dislocations. But it has fewer side effects than aspirin and ibuprofen, and you can use it if you have ulcers, chickenpox, influenza or gout, taking care not to take it continuously or in very high doses, because it can cause damage to the liver and kidneys.

Is used to:

  • Relieve headaches.
  • Lower the fever.
  • Relieve toothache, the effects of the chickenpox vaccine and the flu.
  • Pregnant women (always with doctor’s approval) as it has no known harmful effects on the mother, fetus or baby. You can also use it if you are breastfeeding.

You should not use it:

  • If you have a disease in the liver or kidneys.
  • In very high or continuous doses.
  • Ibuprofen

It is sold under names like Advil, Motrin, IB and Nuprin, among others (depending on where you live). Ketoprofen and naproxen (Aleve) are analgesics similar to ibuprofen. They belong to the group known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Like aspirin, ibuprofen works by inhibiting the production of prostaglandin. It can irritate the walls of the stomach and cause abdominal pain, nausea and loss of appetite, and can also decrease platelet buildup and increase bleeding. It is a stronger analgesic than aspirin or acetaminophen, and fights inflammation better than aspirin. It is more effective for menstrual cramps than aspirin or acetaminophen.

Is used to:

  • Relieve headaches, muscle aches and arthritis.
  • Relieve the pain of menstruation (dysmenorrhea)
  • Reduce inflammation.
  • Lower the fever.

You should not use it:

  • If you are pregnant, especially during the last trimester, because it can prolong the duration of labor, increase bleeding of the mother and cause cardiac and vascular complications in the newborn.
  • If you have diabetes or congestive heart failure.
  • If you suffer from heartburn, upset stomach (GERD or stomach ulcer, for example), nausea, vomiting or diarrhea.
  • If you have high blood pressure (hypertension), diabetes, arteriosclerosis or if you take diuretics, especially if you are elderly.

5 points to consider to avoid risks with over-the-counter painkillers:

  1. Children should not take aspirin, even at low doses. It is safer for them to take ibuprofen or acetaminophen, as long as the dose is right for their age and weight.
  2. Alcohol and analgesics are a dangerous combination. Try not to mix them.
  3. Some analgesics may interact with medications to regulate pressure, and even increase it in people who do not. If you have high blood pressure, consult your doctor before taking them.
  4. If you need to take painkillers that irritate the stomach walls, protect your stomach by taking the lowest dose possible. If you need to take them for more than a week or in higher doses, consult your doctor.
  5. Some over-the-counter products sometimes combine various medications (such as colds and colds). To avoid taking an overdose of any of them, look at the label what ingredients the product contains. For example, if a drug contains acetaminophen, you should avoid taking it separately.

Over-the-counter painkillers are essential medicines in your medicine cabinet. But to avoid problems, read carefully the instructions for taking them, their contraindications and their side effects. Children are not small adults. Never exceed the recommended doses and the indicated time. If you have doubts, consult your doctor. If you take these precautions, you can relieve various discomforts without risking your health.

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