Explain the differences between Aleve, Excedrin, Tylenol and the other one I can’t remember. Maybe if I understood how they are different, I’d know which would be the best to use in any given situation. And what is in the PM variety to make it different.
Excellent question! And a big one. Or at least that’s what I have been telling myself to justify how long it has taken to finish this post. And to justify how long it turned out to be. Since I am sure no one else wants to read through all of this in one sitting I am splitting it into two posts—this week will cover the general background on pain relievers and the specifics on acetaminophen and next week we’ll get around to “the other ones.”
General Background on Pain Relievers
As is a theme with most over-the-counter categories, the sizeable pain reliever section is based on only a handful of ingredients that can be grouped in two categories: acetaminophen (aka Tylenol®) and the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Most people I have met already like one of these categories better than the other—and that is fine! Both categories are great pain relievers and fever reducers and it often doesn’t matter which one you prefer. Personally, I like acetaminophen for headache-type pain and I feel the NSAIDs are better for muscle or joint related pain because they actively relieve inflammation. However, there are several more important differences I will highlight and I hope you will rely on those to make your pain reliever choice.
For those of you already dreading the math involved in figuring out how much acetaminophen you are taking PLEASE ask your pharmacist. Acetaminophen is added to a LOT of over-the-counter and prescription products and it is easy to miss on prescription labels because it is abbreviated (usually as APAP or ACET). And, as always, be sure to check your active ingredients in case acetaminophen is sneaking up on you in your cold or allergy medicine or some other mysterious place.
Additional concerns with acetaminophen use include:
· Limit yourself to less than 3 alcoholic drinks per day
· Check with your doctor if you have liver or kidney disease or G6PD deficiency (you’ll know what this is if you have it)
· There is a very small risk of a serious skin reaction—anytime you experience a concerning skin reaction STOP taking the medication and contact your doctor
If you have more questions about acetaminophen’s safety—feel free to check out the FDA’s consumer website for more information.
For those of you wondering about how fast acetaminophen will work, you should notice it start working within 1 hour and it will last for 4 to 6 hours, which is similar to the NSAIDs (as you will see next week…dunh dunh dunh).