Analgesics Analgesics, or painkillers, come in many varieties. Most consumers know the various brand names, but may not know that they are in different pharmacological classifications. For instance, Tylenol and Motrin are two drugs that behave differently on the human body to achieve similar results. While most consumers do not think about what they put into their bodies, maybe they should. They would find that the various painkillers could markedly affect the body differently. The most popular over-the-counter classifications of painkillers are acetaminophen, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and salicylates.

One of the most popular over-the-counter drugs used to relieve pain is Tylenol. Tylenol is the brand name for acetaminophen or paracetamol. Consumers take acetaminophen to relieve mild to moderate pain such as for osteoarthritis or headaches. The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) says that acetaminophen works by changing the way the body senses pain (2012). Anderson (2008) explains further, “Paracetamol mediates a central analgesic effect through the activation of the descending serotonergic pathways” (p. 915).

Generic brands, some forms of Anacin, Panadol, and various infant and children’s products also contain acetaminophen. Recently, recalls removed many of these acetaminophen products from store shelves because they caused serious complications in some children. Consumers must follow dosage directions carefully because long periods of high dosage can cause liver damage. NSAIDs are another category of over-the-counter analgesics. Ibuprofen is a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicine that relieves most common pain, inflammation, and fever as in arthritis.

NCBI says, “[Ibuprofen] works by stopping the body's production of a substance that causes pain, fever, and inflammation” (2010). Motrin and Advil are popular brand names of analgesics that contain ibuprofen. Naproxen is another NSAID available over-the-counter. Aleve is the best-known trademark of naproxen sodium and is preferred over ibuprofen because its effects last longer. Doctors often recommend naproxen specifically for arthritic joint pain, bursitis, tendonitis, and gout. While all NSAIDs block the production of a chemical in he brain that affects fluids in the body that cause inflammation and swelling, naproxen are particularly effective at relieving joint pain and symptoms of arthritis (NCBI, 2011). Although all NSAIDs can cause stomach upset, naproxen are worse, and consumers should do it with food or milk. Another analgesic that has been around for an extraordinarily long time is aspirin (salicylate). Although aspirin has many uses as a painkiller, aspirin is particularly useful on rheumatoid arthritis symptoms.

Aspirin works “to stop the production and dissemination of chemicals that cause pain and inflammation…It reduces fever by adjusting the body’s thermostat in the brain…It prevents platelets from becoming sticky and clumping together” (Lexi-PALS, 2012). Aspirin is both an antiplatelet agent and a salicylate. Recently, scientists discovered low dosage aspirin is beneficial in the prevention of heart attacks and “ischemic strokes (strokes that occur when a blood clot blocks the flow of blood to the brain) or mini-strokes (strokes that occur when the brain blocks the flow of blood for a short time” (NCBI, 2011).

Many common over-the-counter drugs that contain aspirin are Bayer, Bufferin, and Ecotrin. Aspirin can cause Reye’s syndrome in children under the age of 16 with flu-like symptoms or chicken pox. Other side effects of aspirin are stomach problems or bleeding ulcers, the silent killers. Once consumers learn about acetaminophen, NSAIDs, and salicylates and the different ways they work on the body, they can make an educated decision about which one is best for the symptoms exhibited.

Consumers use salicylates and NSAIDs for their analgesic, anti-inflammatory, and fever-reducing effects, while they use acetaminophen only for its pain and fever- reducing effects. Most importantly, knowing the side effects of over-the-counter pain medications can prevent serious health complications such as, liver damage, bleeding ulcers (silent killers), and Reye’s syndrome in children.