Skip to main content

Everyone has their go-to pain reliever in times of need. But did you ever stop to question if your choice of medication is the best solution for the pain you’re experiencing?

Over-the-counter pain relievers fall into two major categories: acetaminophen (brand name Tylenol) and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) which include brand names such as Advil, Motrin and Aleve. With so many choices, picking the right pain reliever can itself be a headache.

It’s helpful to know the advantages and drawbacks of the pain relievers you take, as well as their relative effectiveness in treating certain conditions. Here is a breakdown:



Acetaminophen is effective in reducing fever and easing pain for things such as osteoarthritis and headaches, but it does not reduce inflammation.  It’s also easier on the stomach than other pain relievers.

Some drawbacks of acetaminophen are:

  • High doses or prolonged use can cause permanent liver damage
  • Acetaminophen can be a hidden ingredient in many other medications such as cold and sleep medications. Make sure to read labels and not take multiple medications at once that can put you over the safe acetaminophen level (a daily limit of about 4,000 mg).
  • Avoid it altogether if you have three or more alcoholic drinks a day because it can increase your chances for liver damage



The drugs classified as NSAIDs are also effective in reducing fever and easing pain, but have the benefit of reducing inflammation – which can be the root cause for some types of pain. For this reason, NSAIDs are a good choice for pain involving:

  • Inflammatory arthritis
  • Backache
  • Muscle soreness
  • Toothache
  • Menstrual cramps


Some drawbacks of NSAIDs are:

  • High doses or prolonged use can cause kidney damage, heart attack and stroke
  • Serious side effects such as stomach bleeding (ulcers), heartburn, GI upset and constipation can occur
  • They’re not recommended for those with asthma because it increases the chances for a serious allergic reaction
  • People with high blood pressure shouldn’t take NSAIDs because these medications may increase blood pressure


Overall, NSAIDs are more effective when dealing with pain caused by inflammation, while acetaminophen is your best bet if you have a sensitive stomach, high blood pressure or existing GI problems. Overall, acetaminophen is safer and more gentle than NSAIDs if not taken too much or too frequently. To reduce the risks and maximize the benefits, doctors recommend taking the medication most appropriate for the type of pain you are experiencing and understanding the risks for any medical conditions you may have.


Weekly Health Tips are brought to you by UCF Health, the College of Medicine’s physician practice. Offering primary and specialty care under one roof, UCF Health treats patients age 16 and up in primary care and age 18 and up for specialty care. Most major insurance plans are accepted. Two locations are now open: the original in East Orlando at Quadrangle and University boulevards just blocks from the main UCF campus, and the newest one in Medical City at Narcoossee Road and Tavistock Lakes Boulevard. Information for both facilities can be found at, or call (407) 266-DOCS to schedule an appointment.

Post Tags