Acetaminophen vs. ibuprofen for pain quick comparison of differences

The most common brand name for acetaminophen is Tylenol. Some brand names for ibuprofen include Advil and Motrin.

How do acetaminophen and ibuprofen work (mechanism of action)? What are they used for?

Acetaminophen belongs to a class of drugs called analgesics (pain relievers) and antipyretics (fever reducers). Acetaminophen is believed to work by reducing the production of prostaglandins in the brain. Prostaglandins are chemicals that cause inflammation and swelling. Acetaminophen relieves pain by elevating the pain threshold, that is, by requiring a greater amount of pain to develop before a person feels it. It reduces fever through its action on the heat-regulating center of the brain by telling the center to lower the body's temperature when the temperature is elevated.

Ibuprofen belongs to a class of drugs called nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Other members of this class include aspirin, naproxen (Aleve), indomethacin (Indocin), and nabumetone (Relafen), among others. These drugs are used for the management of mild to moderate pain, fever, and inflammation. Ibuprofen blocks the enzyme that makes prostaglandins (cyclooxygenase), resulting in lower levels of prostaglandins. As a consequence, inflammation, pain and fever are reduced.

Which one is better for pain relief, acetaminophen or ibuprofen?

Which is better, acetaminophen or ibuprofen

Acetaminophen uses

  • Acetaminophen is used for a pain reliever and to reduce fever as well as aches and pains associated with many conditions.
  • Acetaminophen relieves pain in mild arthritis but has no effect on the underlying inflammation, redness, and swelling of the joint.
  • If the pain is not due to inflammation, acetaminophen is as effective as aspirin.
  • Acetaminophen is as effective as NSAIDS like ibuprofen (Motrin) for the pain relief of osteoarthritis of the knee.

Unless directed by a doctor, acetaminophen should not be used for longer than 10 days.

Ibuprofen uses

Ibuprofen is used for the treatment of mild to moderate pain, inflammation, and fever caused by many and diverse diseases, including;

  1. menstrual cramps (dysmenorrhea),
  2. osteoarthritis,
  3. rheumatoid arthritis
  4. juvenile idiopathic arthritis
  5. inflammatory conditions,
  6. minor pain of arthritis,
  7. reduces temporary fever,
  8. headaches,
  9. cramps,
  10. back pain,
  11. joint pain,
  12. the common cold,
  13. toothaches,
  14. minor aches and pains,
  15. strains, and
  16. sprains.

What are the side effects of acetaminophen vs. ibuprofen?

Acetaminophen side effects

When used appropriately, side effects with acetaminophen are not common.

The most common side effects are;

  1. rash,
  2. nausea, and
  3. headache.

Other important side effects include:

  1. Hypersensitivity reactions
  2. Serious skin reactions
  3. Kidney damage
  4. Anemia
  5. Reduced number of platelets in the blood (thrombocytopenia)
  6. Chronic alcohol use may also increase the risk of stomach bleeding.

The most serious side effect is liver damage due to large doses and chronic or concomitant use with alcohol or other drugs that also damage the liver.

Ibuprofen side effects

SLIDESHOW

Pain Management: Surprising Causes of Pain See Slideshow

What is the dosage for acetaminophen vs. ibuprofen?

Acetaminophen dosage

  • The dose for adults is 325 to 650 mg every 4 hours or 500 mg every 8 hours when using immediate release formulations.
  • The dose for extended release caplet is 1300 mg every 8 hours.
  • The maximum daily dose is 4 grams.
  • The oral dose for a child is based on the child's age and weight. If less than 12 years old the dosing is 10-15 mg/kg every 6-8 hours not to exceed 2.6 g/day (5 doses). If older than 12 years of age the dose is 40-60 mg/kg/day every 6 hours not to exceed 3.75 g/day (5 doses).

Ibuprofen dosage

  • For minor aches, mild to moderate pain, menstrual cramps, and fever, the usual adult dose is 200 or 400 mg every 4 to 6 hours.
  • Arthritis is treated with 300 to 800 mg 3 or 4 times daily.
  • When under the care of a physician, the maximum dose of ibuprofen is 3.2 g daily. Otherwise, the maximum dose is 1.2 g daily.
  • Individuals should not use ibuprofen for more than 10 days for the treatment of pain or more than 3 days for the treatment of a fever unless directed by a physician.
  • Children 6 months to 12 years of age usually are given 5-10 mg/kg of ibuprofen every 6-8 hours for the treatment of fever and pain. The maximum dose is 40 mg/kg daily.
  • Juvenile arthritis is treated with 20 to 40 mg/kg/day in 3-4 divided doses.
  • Ibuprofen should be taken with meals to prevent stomach upset.

What drugs interact with acetaminophen vs. ibuprofen?

Acetaminophen drug interactions

Acetaminophen is metabolized (eliminated by conversion to other chemicals) by the liver. Therefore drugs that increase the action of liver enzymes that metabolize acetaminophen, for example, carbamazepine (Tegretol), isoniazid, rifampin (Rifamate, Rifadin, Rimactane), reduce the levels of acetaminophen and may decrease the effectiveness action of acetaminophen.

Doses of acetaminophen greater than the recommended doses are toxic to the liver and may result in severe liver damage. The potential for acetaminophen to harm the liver is increased when it is combined with alcohol or drugs that also harm the liver.

Cholestyramine (Questran) reduces the effect of acetaminophen by decreasing its absorption into the body from the intestine. Therefore, acetaminophen should be administered 3 to 4 hours after cholestyramine or one hour before cholestyramine .

Acetaminophen doses greater than 2275 mg per day may increase the blood thinning effect of warfarin (Coumadin) by an unknown mechanism. Therefore, prolonged administration or large doses of acetaminophen should be avoided during warfarin therapy.

Ibuprofen drug interactions

Ibuprofen is associated with several suspected or probable interactions that can affect the action of other drugs.

  • Ibuprofen may increase the blood levels of lithium (Eskalith, Lithobid) by reducing the excretion of lithium by the kidneys. Increased levels of lithium may lead to lithium toxicity.
  • Ibuprofen may reduce the blood pressure-lowering effects of drugs that are given to reduce blood pressure. This may occur because prostaglandins play a role in the regulation of blood pressure.
  • When ibuprofen is used in combination with methotrexate (Rheumatrex, Trexall) or aminoglycosides (for example, gentamicin) the blood levels of the methotrexate or aminoglycoside may increase, presumably because their elimination from the body is reduced. This may lead to more methotrexate or aminoglycoside-related side effects.
  • Ibuprofen increases the negative effect of cyclosporine on kidney function.
  • Individuals taking oral blood thinners or anticoagulants, for example, warfarin (Coumadin), should avoid ibuprofen because ibuprofen also thins the blood, and excessive blood thinning may lead to bleeding.
  • If aspirin is taken with ibuprofen there may be an increased risk for developing an ulcer.
  • Persons who have more than three alcoholic beverages per day may be at increased risk of developing stomach ulcers when taking ibuprofen or other NSAIDs.
  • Combining SSRIs or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (for example, fluoxetine [Prozac], citalopram [Celexa], paroxetine [Paxil, Paxil CR, Pexeva) with NSAIDs may increase the likelihood of upper gastrointestinal bleeding.

Are acetaminophen or ibuprofen safe to take if I am pregnant or breastfeeding?

Acetaminophen safety

  • Acetaminophen is excreted in breast milk in small quantities. However, acetaminophen use by the nursing mother appears to be safe.

Ibuprofen safety

  • There are no adequate studies of ibuprofen in pregnant women. Therefore, ibuprofen is not recommended during pregnancy. Ibuprofen should be avoided in late pregnancy due to the risk of premature closure of the ductus arteriosus in the fetal heart.
  • Ibuprofen is excreted in breast milk but the American Academy of Pediatrics states that ibuprofen is compatible with breastfeeding.

QUESTION

Medically speaking, the term "myalgia" refers to what type of pain? See Answer

Summary

Acetaminophen (Tylenol and many other brand names is an pain reliever (analgesic) and fever reducer (antipyretic ). Scientists do not know the exact mechanism of action of acetaminophen. Ibuprofen (Advil) is an NSAID (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug) used for the treat inflammation, fever, and mild pain. Ibuprofen works in relieving mild pain, inflammation, and fever by blocking an enzyme that makes chemicals released in the body that promote inflammation (prostaglandins). Prostaglandins promote inflammation in the body.

Common side effects of both acetaminophen and ibuprofen include rash, nausea, and headache. Side effects specific to acetaminophen include kidney damage, anemia, thrombocytopenia, serious skin reactions, and liver failure. Side effects of specific to ibuprofen include tinnitus (ringing in the ears), dizziness, drowsiness, stomach pain, constipation, and heartburn. Dosage depends upon whether the person using acetaminophen or ibuprofen.

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Medically Reviewed on 1/7/2020
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