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Are Over-The-Counter (OTC) Pain Relievers Bad?

Taking over-the-counter pain pills, like Tylenol or Advil, can help with things like muscle soreness, fever, and cramps. There are two main types of medicine in pain pills you buy at the pharmacy: acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Advil).

Either drug is fairly effective, but they each have certain strengths and weaknesses. For fevers, they’re equally useful at bringing your temperature down. Since ibuprofen can cause stomach problems, skip that if you have stomach pain or heartburn and opt for acetaminophen. Ibuprofen is better suited for period pains.

There are a few side effects that you should watch out for from each type. First of all, make sure you’re taking the correct dosage. Instructions for taking the medicine should be on the bottle, as well as a limit for how much you can take at a certain time.

Common side effects from ibuprofen include stomach pain (make sure you take it with food), constipation, heartburn, and nausea. If you take too much or take ibuprofen for too long, it can lead to blood clots, heart attack, kidney damage, and stroke.

Be careful if you’re taking other medications because acetaminophen and ibuprofen can react poorly with certain medications. Also, if you’re taking other pain killers, make sure they don’t contain extra acetaminophen or ibuprofen. 

People with kidney problems should be careful when taking acetaminophen since it can be hard on the kidneys. The same is true for liver problems. More common side effects of this medication include nausea, vomiting, and headache. A lot of cold and flu medications contain acetaminophen, so it’s easy to take too much if you’re not carefully reading the ingredients of the medication you buy.

One strategy to avoid side effects is to alternate between acetaminophen pills and ibuprofen pills. This is helpful if you have to take them for more than a few days. Since they’re different drugs, alternating them can help you avoid taking too much of one or the other.

There’s also evidence that either of these pain medications can decrease muscle-building. While it’s fine to take every now and then, taking them regularly might slow your muscle growth. 

We always recommend speaking to your doctor or pharmacist when considering medication.

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