It can be challenging to choose the right over-the-counter pain medication. While the choices are many, it’s very important
to make a decision based on your symptoms and other medical issues. Not all pain relievers are created equal, and knowing the difference between various types can be very helpful.
Before taking any medication, you should consult with your physician and/or pharmacist. Additionally, you should carefully read labels for warnings and other information. This is especially true for combination products used for treating
pain and other conditions, such as colds, allergies, arthritis and muscle aches.
Acetaminophen and Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) are the most commonly used over-the-counter pain medications.
The main difference between the two is that NSAIDs help reduce pain, fever and inflammation. Acetaminophen only reduces pain and fever.
George Carro, Pharmacist at NorthShore Evanston Hospital, helps clarify the differences between these common over-the-counter pain relievers to help you make a better, more-informed decision:
Acetaminophen (Tylenol®) tends to be milder on the stomach. Keep in mind that acetaminophen will not help with inflammation. Acetaminophen is an active ingredient in many other medications, including cold and flu preparations. Be sure to
read all labels carefully so you do not exceed the recommended maximum daily dose of acetaminophen.
Safe for Children? Acetaminophen is generally considered safe for use in children. Always be sure to confirm proper usage and dosing information with your pediatrician.
Side Effects? Liver toxicity, including liver damage and failure, can be associated with improper use of this drug. Alcohol consumption in combination with acetaminophen use may increase this risk.
NSAIDs—Aspirin (Bayer®), Ibuprofen (Advil ®or Motrin®), Naproxen (Aleve®) and others—can help relieve pain and reduce inflammation.
Safe for Children? As with any drug for children, it is recommended to discuss proper usage and dosing information with your pediatrician. Please consider the following for use in children:
Side Effects? The most common side effects include stomach and kidney problems. It is recommended to take all NSAIDs with food to help minimize stomach irritation. If you have heart conditions, stomach ulcers or blood disorders, please consult
with your physician before taking these medications.
No drug—prescription or over-the-counter—is without risks. Always consult with your physician if you have any questions or concerns about your medications. Our NorthShore pharmacists can also answer questions and help you make informed, over-the-counter
pain reliever selections.
Relief from migraine headaches can come in many different forms – from pain medication, preventative drugs, massage
and acupuncture to at-home remedies including relaxation techniques and proper sleep.
Approximately 20 percent of women and 10 percent of men in the United States suffer from migraine headaches. Those who are able to identify “trigger” sites on the head or face where the migraine pain starts or localizes may be able to consider a plastic surgery
treatment option. Botox, traditionally used to relax facial muscles to reduce wrinkles, can also be used to relax muscles around the nerves that may trigger migraines.
Michael Howard, MD, a plastic surgeon at NorthShore, works closely with our neurologists to evaluate candidates for migraine headache surgery. Dr. Howard identifies some
of the factors that may help determine if a patient is a good candidate for this surgery:
Do you suffer from migraine headaches? Do you know your trigger sites?
Dubbed ‘suicide headaches,’ cluster headaches strike without warning. Symptoms include pain on one side of the head
(usually behind the eye or temple) that occur seasonally, in the spring and late fall.
Dr. B.T. Horton, the researcher who first identified these headaches in 1939, said his patients had to be constantly watched for fear of suicide because the pain is so excruciating.
Steven Meyers, MD, Neurologist with NorthShore, offers the following known facts about cluster headaches:
While there is no cure for cluster headaches, there are treatments that can decrease the severity of pain, shorten the duration and even prevent them. The key is correct diagnosis. Relatively rare, they affect less than 1% of the population and are frequently
mistaken for migraines. Be sure to see your doctor for an accurate diagnosis and relief.z
Do you suffer from cyclical, painful headaches? What do you do to relieve headaches?