OTC Pain & Fever Relievers

Over-the-counter pain and fever relievers are effective for reducing some types of pain and decreasing fevers. There are two types these drugs – acetaminophen and the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs):

Acetaminophen

The main brand name for this drug is Tylenol. This drug is in a class by itself because it works differently than the other drugs for fever and pain, the NSAIDs. Most people don’t have any problems taking acetaminophen in the recommended amounts, but you should ask your doctor about if you have liver problems. Be careful not to take more than the amount recommended on the labels – taking too much could damage your liver.

Also, be aware that many combination cold and flu medications contain acetaminophen, so you will need make sure you aren’t taking too much when taking these medications.

NSAIDs

This class of drugs includes aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen available over-the-counter. There are other NSAIDs that are available by prescription, so if you are taking a prescription NSAID, you should avoid taking additional NSAIDs as this can increase your risk of complications.

The main complication from taking NSAIDs is bleeding in the stomach from stomach ulcers. If you had problems with stomach ulcers in the past, you should talk to your doctor before you take NSAIDs. Additionally, NSAIDs can increase blood pressure, which may be a problem if you already have high blood pressure. Additionally, if you take NSAIDs for a long period of time, you increase the risk of damaging your kidneys. Finally, some recent studies show that NSAIDs may increase your risk for a heart attack, especially if you already have heart disease.

Taking Pain & Fever Relievers Together

Since acetaminophen and NSAIDs are two different classes of drugs, it is okay to take them together or to alternate them when trying to control a fever. Just be sure to follow the label instructions and make sure you don’t take too much of either class of medication.


You’ll need to always read and follow the Drug Fact labels. Ask your doctor or pharmacist if you have any specific questions, especially if you are pregnant, have other medical conditions, or take other medications.


For more information see:

Go Back to OTC Quick Reference for Cold & Flu