What is the best pain medication you can buy without a prescription?

Question Answered by Alan Jensen, Registered Pharmacist, Albertsons Sav-on Drug

There is no “one size fits all” answer to this question. There are four pain medications available for over the counter use: Aspirin (Bayer Aspirin, Original Alka Seltzer), Acetaminophen (Tylenol), Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and Naproxen Sodium (Aleve). All of these products are available in generic or store brand products. The store brands should be as good as the brand names. Some products combine more than one pain reliever such as Excedrin and there are more than one aspirin type product available such as Doans.

Each of these products have analgesic (pain reducing) and antipyretic (fever reducing) activities. All can be used for the temporary relief of pain and fever associated with headache, toothache, cold, arthritis, muscle ache and menstrual cramp. Although each medication may be used for all these conditions, acetaminophen has little or no anti-inflammatory activity and may not work as well as the other medications when swelling or inflammation is a cause of the pain such as joint pain due to rheumatoid arthritis.

Acetaminophen can be harmful to the liver and the daily dose should not exceed 4 grams per day in healthy adults. People who drink three alcoholic drinks daily or have liver problems should not take more than two grams daily or avoid acetaminophen completely.

Aspirin, Ibuprofen and Naproxen Sodium can all increase the risk of stomach bleeding and ulceration. The elderly are more susceptible to this problem. Aspirin should not be given to children and teenagers with chickenpox or flu symptoms.

aspirin is credited to protect the heart against heart attack, however Ibuprofen and Naproxen Sodium may be associated with an increase risk of heart attack and stroke.

When taking any over the counter medication, there is a possibility of an adverse drug reaction if other drugs are being taken. For the purpose of this discussion, let’s just say that Ibuprofen has the most drug interactions and Acetaminophen has the least. However interactions with Warfarin (Coumadin), an anticoagulant, is of major importance. All may increase the effect of Warfarin, but Acetaminophen is the safest to use with Warfarin.

Your Stomach
In some people, pain medications like aspirin and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs may irritate the stomach and cause acid indigestion.

Materials: Red cabbage, pot, strainer, stove, clear bowl, dry ice, diet soda (any brand), dish soap

  1. Grate the cabbage into small pieces and add it to a pot with enough water to cover the cabbage.
  2. Boil the cabbage for 20 minutes, then strain the cabbage water into a clear bowl (representing your stomach).
  3. During the day, we may eat acidic foods. Pour 1/4 cup soda pop into your stomach (bowl). What happened? The cabbage juice is an agent that detects the presence of acid. If your juice turned pink, an acid is present.
  4. Now place a small sliver of dry ice (representing pain reliever) into the bowl using a hot pad or gloves (dry ice burns!). Add three squirts of dish soap. What happened? Dry ice is acidic, like some pain medications, and it sublimates to fill the stomach with gas. The soap is slimy and represents saliva. What do you think your stomach would feel like with all those bubbles? This is what happens to you when you experience acid indigestion.

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