Know the Difference Between Your Over-the-Counter Pain Relievers

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Aspirin, ibuprofen, they’re all the same, right? Well, not exactly. While they’re both over-the-counter pain relievers, the difference comes from how they affect your body and treat different types of aches and pains. Both aspirin and ibuprofen are nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) that are used to treat pain, inflammation, and fever. However, there are a few key differences between the two. 

What is aspirin?

Aspirin, first sold in 1899 under the popular brand name Bayer, is made from salicylic acid. The key difference between aspirin and ibuprofen is that aspirin is also used in the prevention of blood clots and can reduce the risk of stroke and heart attack with long- term use. Doctors often prescribe “baby” or low-dose 81 milligram aspirin to treat patients with cardiovascular risk factors. 

How do aspirin and ibuprofen work in the body?

Both aspirin and ibuprofen work by reducing the effect of prostaglandins on the body. Prostaglandins are hormone-like substances that regulate pain and inflammation, among other things. They are produced at the site of where they’re needed, such as sites of infection where they cause inflammation and pain. Prostaglandins are unique to each cell, meaning that some versions of them are good, some promote pain, and some constrict blood vessels and help blood platelets clot. 

Because aspirin blocks prostaglandins, this leads to one of the main negative side effects of aspirin: it blocks the prostaglandins that protect the lining of your stomach and can cause stomach upset. In severe cases, bleeding in the stomach and intestines can occur. 

Other common side effects of aspirin include:

  • Heartburn
  • Drowsiness
  • Headache
  • Cramping
  • Nausea 
  • Rash

What is ibuprofen?

Ibuprofen, most commonly known by the brand name Advil, is used to relieve pain from headaches, menstrual cramps, muscle aches, arthritis, dental pain, and many other conditions. Ibuprofen is made from propionic acid and typically comes in 200 milligram doses. Ibuprofen is more suitable than aspirin for long-term use to treat chronic pain conditions. 

The most common side effects of ibuprofen include:

  • Constipation 
  • Diarrhea 
  • Gas or bloating 
  • Nausea 
  • Heartburn 
  • Indigestion 
  • Bloating 

So, which is better for the most common aches and pains in adults?

Headache: Some studies indicate that aspirin may be more effective in treating migraine and severe headache.

Sore throat: Drug of choice? Ibuprofen.

Hangover: We’ve all been there. Ibuprofen and a greasy breakfast sandwich. 

Sore muscles: Ibuprofen is best for muscle strains. See a provider at StarMed Healthcare if the pain continues. 

An important note:

Children under 16 should NOT take aspirin, as it’s been linked to causing Reye’s Syndrome, a rare but serious condition that causes confusion, swelling in the brain, liver damage, and can lead to death. 

Before taking aspirin or ibuprofen long-term, you should consult a provider at StarMed Healthcare to learn which treatment may be right for you. We’re open every day with walk-ins welcome. To find a location near you, visit