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The Difference Between OTC Painkillers Like Tyenol and Advil

A Breakdown of Common OTC Pain Meds

Do you know what's in your medicine cabinet? A recent report in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine found that while over-the-counter medicine use is prevalent, many people don't know much about the active ingredients in popular painkillers like Advil and Tylenol.

When asked about the difference between common pain relief brands, most of the study's participants didn't know what was in Tylenol, Advil, or Aleve, or that overdosing on Tylenol, for example, could lead to serious liver damage.

While you may not think twice about popping a few pills the day after a particularly strenuous boot camp session, the fact is that the side effects from overdosing on painkillers can be serious. In fact, acetaminophen overdose continues to be the leading cause of liver failure in the United States.

Confused about whether you should take Tylenol or Advil for a pain, or what the correct dosage is? Read on for a chart of the most common OTC painkillers on the market after the break.

Remember to read all labels and directions before you take any medicine, including OTC, and talk to your doctor when necessary. And don't forget: mixing alcohol with pain meds is never a good idea.

Brand Type Commonly used for Dosage for adults Major side effects
Tylenol Acetaminophen Headaches, muscle aches, arthritis, backache, toothaches, colds, and fever

Regular Strength Tylenol (325 mg tablets): 2 every 4-6 hours; no more than 12 in a 24-hour period

An overdose can cause liver damage, so make sure you take no more than 1 gram (1000 mg) of acetaminophen per dose or 4 grams (4000 mg) per day
Bayer Aspirin Mild to moderate pain, and also to reduce fever or inflammation; sometimes used to treat or prevent cardiovascular conditions like heart attacks and strokes Bayer Regular Dose (325 mg caplets): 1 or 2 every 4 hours; no more than 12 in a 24-hour period Can cause Reyes syndrome if given to children with fever; can cause stomach or intestinal bleeding
Aleve Naproxen Pain or inflammation caused by conditions such as arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, tendinitis, bursitis, gout, or menstrual cramps Aleve (200 mg naproxen tablets): 1 every 8-12 hours (may take 2 within the first hour); no more than 2 in an 8- to 12-hour period and 3 in a 24-hour period Can increase risk of heart attack and stroke, and can also cause bleeding or tearing in the intestines and stomach
Advil or Motrin Ibuprofen Reducing fever and treating pain or inflammation caused by many conditions such as headache, toothache, back pain, arthritis, menstrual cramps, or minor injury Advil (200 mg tablets) or Motrin IB (200 mg tablets): 1 every 4-6 hours; no more than 6 in 24 hours Can increase risk of heart attack, stroke, or bleeding in the intestines or stomach
Excedrin Acetaminophen, aspirin, and caffeine Tension headaches, migraines, muscle aches, menstrual cramps, arthritis, toothaches, congestion or cold pain Excedrin Extra Strength (250 mg acetaminophen, 250 mg aspirin, 65 mg caffeine tablets): 2 tablets every 6 hours; no more than 8 tablets in 24 hours

Can cause Reyes syndrome if given to children with fever; can cause stomach or intestinal bleeding/tearing

An overdose can cause liver damage, so make sure you take no more than 1 gram (1000 mg) of acetaminophen per dose or 4 grams (4000 mg) per day

Image Source: Thinkstock
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