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Should you take acetaminophen or ibuprofen?

Acetaminophen and ibuprofen are medicine cabinet staples, a no-brainer when you develop a headache and a convenient option to try before scheduling a doctor’s appointment. Although, knowing which one to use to relieve your symptoms is key.

Both over-the-counter medications can help with mild to moderate pain, such as headaches, muscle aches, menstrual cramps and toothaches. However, they each are better at improving certain symptoms over the other since they are in different drug classes.

Ibuprofen is a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), meaning it prevents the production of enzymes that cause pain and inflammation. This makes it a good option for arthritis and sprains. Acetaminophen is an analgesic, meaning it blocks the brain’s pain signals. It’s often used to help reduce fevers.

“Acetaminophen and ibuprofen can both be taken on a regular basis provided they are not taken more frequently than recommended and there are no interfering conditions or medications,” explains Dr. George Lessmann, a family medicine physician at Aurora Health Care.

For example, if you drink large amounts of alcohol on a regular basis, Dr. Lessmann recommends reducing your consumption and not taking acetaminophen. That’s because the medicine is typically processed through the liver. For those on blood thinners, he recommends avoiding ibuprofen – especially if you have heart or kidney disease, or stomach problems. Instead, ask your specialist about safe alternatives.

If it wasn’t tricky enough to know when to use one over the other, you also can use a combination.

“Many patients don’t know that they can use ibuprofen and acetaminophen at the same time,” Dr. Lessman says. “Sometimes a combination of both is recommended for those who are in more acute pain and stronger control is needed. It may also be recommended when there is a desire to avoid medications with a higher risk profile, such as opioids, steroids, or other medications typically prescribed by specialists.”

If you have any questions about taking ibuprofen and/or acetaminophen, don’t hesitate to reach out to your primary care doctor.

Do you have hip or knee pain? Take a free online quiz to learn more. 

This article originally appeared on health enews.

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