the difference between aspirin, ibuprofen, and acetaminophen

What is the difference between aspirin, ibuprofen, and acetaminophen?

Medication, ,

Most of us rely on a medication such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or acetaminophen to relieve a headache, minor aches and pains, or fever. How do you pick the best one for your situation?

The goal is to pick the one that is most likely to relieve your symptoms, and least likely to cause side effects. None of them are perfect, as they all have certain side effects. The decision of which one to choose depends on what type of pain you are having, your age, and any underlying medical issues. 

The main differential between these drugs is that most decrease inflammation (such arthritis pain), while one does not. All will help decrease fever.  


Patented by Bayer in 1899. The traditional pain medicine, but recently has been largely replaced by the others below. 

—  Generic term: acetylsalicylic acid

—  Is a NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug) which means it decreases inflammation, as well as pain and feve

— Should not be given to children (risk of Reye’s Syndrome)

— Decreases blood clotting, so should not be taken by people with bleeding disorders, or around the time of surgery

— Most common side effect is upset stomach and, in some cases, causes stomach bleeding 

— Does not increase blood pressure or heart attack risk (unlike the other NSAIDs below)



— Brand names: Motrin, Advil, and others

— Is a NSAID, so decreases inflammation, and good for migraine, menstrual cramps, muscle strains, sprains, sunburn, or arthritis

— Works for 4 to 6 hours 

— Less likely than aspirin to cause stomach irritation

— Like aspirin, decreases blood clotting

— May increase blood pressure, and especially if taken over long periods (a few weeks or longer), increases risk of heart attack and stroke

— Considered safe for young children

— If have kidney problems, check with your doctor first



— Brand names: Aleve, Naprosyn, and others

— Similar characteristics as Ibuprofen, but Naproxen works longer, for 8 to 12 hours.

— Only safe for children 12 years or older 

— Higher risk than Ibuprofen for blood pressure, stroke, and heart problems with long term use

— Higher risk than Ibuprofen of interacting with other medications



— Brand name Tylenol, and others

— Is NOT an anti-inflammatory medication, so less likely to help with arthritis pain, menstrual cramps, sprains, or sunburn

— Does not irritate the stomach

— Does not thin the blood or lead to bleeding

— Main problem is can cause severe liver damage if taken in excess or when combined with alcohol

— But does NOT increase risk of heart attack or stroke

— Considered safe for children


Which one to choose?

As you can see, all these medications have pros and cons. In general, Ibuprofen or Naprosyn are probably the best choice for most people in most situations. If you want a longer acting medication, Naprosyn is probably the better choice, but carries more heart attack and stroke risk with long-term use. If you are concerned about the heart attack or stroke risk or already have heart problems, acetaminophen might be the best choice. Just be cautious with the dose and never mix with alcohol. 

Probably the most important rule is that—to minimize cardiovascular risk if using Ibuprofen or Naprosyn—take the lowest dose that helps you, for the shortest possible time. For all these medications (except acetaminophen), taking with food or milk may minimize the risk of stomach irritation. For questions specific to your situation, ask your doctor or pharmacist.

To find a doctor, of any specialty, anywhere in Brazil, check out our website:

See also in ProcuraMed:

Another reason to avoid antibiotics when you have the flu

US Government side effect warning for popular sleeping pill

Esta postagem também está disponível em: Portuguese (Brazil)

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