Examples: Advil Extra Strength Liqui-Gels; Aleve Caplets; Aspirin Original Strength; Atasol Forte Caplets; Motrin IB; Regular Strength Tylenol
How they work: Advil, Aleve, Aspirin and Motrin are non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) that reduce levels of prostaglandins, the chemicals that dilate blood vessels and cause inflammation and pain. Ingredients include ibuprofen (in Advil and Motrin); acetylsalicylic acid-ASA (in Aspirin); and naproxen sodium (in Aleve). “In many cases, ibuprofen, ASA or naproxen sodium may be the better choice,” says Pindy Janda, a patient care pharmacist at London Drugs in Delta, B.C. “They not only relieve pain but also reduce inflammation, which is probably contributing to the headache.” But if you are taking other medications, choose acetaminophen, the key ingredient in Tylenol and Atasol that relieves pain. “It is only a pain or fever reducer, but has fewer interactions with other medications,” says Janda. Ibuprofen in liquid gel format provides the speediest relief (15 to 20 minutes); the next fastest is acetaminophen (20 minutes), followed by ASA and naproxen, which take about half an hour.
Need to know: Follow directions for NSAID doses; tablet sizes vary. For acetaminophen, take one to two tablets every four to six hours, up to a maximum of 12 within 24 hours. Check with your doctor before using these medications if you are pregnant or breastfeeding; taking blood thinners or other medications; or have asthma, ulcers, high blood pressure or heart, kidney or liver disease. ASA should not be taken by those under 18, as it is linked to Reye’s syndrome, a rare but serious disease.