What’s on the Label?

Things to Keep in Mind When Choosing and Using an OTC Pain Reliever

Over-the-counter (OTC) medicines allow you—the consumer—to choose a product that safely and effectively treats your symptoms, when used as directed. Before you select an OTC pain reliever, it is important to keep in mind that your health conditions and/or lifestyle could play a role in your choice. The Drug Facts label on OTC pain relievers and the information below can help.

Use the tool below to develop a personalized OTC pain reliever reference document.

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1. What are the types of oral OTC pain relievers?

There are two main types of OTC pain relievers:

Acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin, ibuprofen, magnesium salicylate, and naproxen sodium.

Both types are safe and effective when used as directed. There are some important things you need to consider when taking either one.

ACETAMINOPHEN

Acetaminophen is also the name of the drug ingredient.
Common medicines with acetaminophen include:

  • Tylenol®
  • Excedrin® (contains aspirin & acetaminophen)
  • Percogesic®
  • Vanquish®
  • Goody’s® (contains aspirin & acetaminophen)
  • Acetaminophen store brands
NSAIDs

NSAIDs include the following active ingredients and brands:

  • Advil®
  • Motrin®IB
  • Ibuprofen store brand
  • Aleve®
  • Naproxen Sodium store brand
  • Bayer® Extra Strength
  • BC® Fast Pain Relief
  • Excedrin® (contains aspirin & acetaminophen)
  • Vanquish®
  • Goody’s® (contains aspirin & acetaminophen)
  • Aspirin store brand
  • Doan’s®

This list does not include every medicine that contains acetaminophen or NSAIDs. If you have a medicine that is not listed here, check the ‘active ingredients’ section of the Drugs Facts label or ask your pharmacist or healthcare provider.

NOTE: These pain-reliever and fever-reducing medicines may also contain other active ingredients to treat multiple symptoms of the common cold (e.g., Feverall®, Theraflu®, Vicks®), pain with sleeplessness, or symptoms related to menstruation (e.g., Midol®, Pamprin®, Diurex®). It is important to check your medicine labels and be sure to take only one medicine containing the same kind of active ingredient (acetaminophen or NSAID) at a time.

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2. How much can I take?

The most common OTC pain relievers—listed below—all have different dosing directions. Never apply the directions of one pain reliever to another, and always read and follow your medicine labels.

IMPORTANT: Do not take more than the amount below in a 24-hour period. If your pain gets worse or lasts for more than 10 days, consult your doctor.

ACETAMINOPHEN

3,000-4,000 mg*

  • Taking more than the FDA-recommended amount (4,000 mg) in a 24-hour period could harm your liver
  • Overdose Warning: Taking more than the recommended dose (overdose) may cause liver damage. In case of overdose, get medical help or contact Poison Control Center right away (1-800-222-1222). Quick medical attention is critical for adults as well as for children, even if you do not notice any signs or symptoms
*Individual products’ maximum daily dose may vary
NSAIDs

1,200 mg

  • Taking more than directed can increase the chance of stomach bleeding
  • NSAIDs (not including aspirin) increase the risk of heart attack, heart failure, and stroke. The risk is higher if you use more than directed or for longer than directed

660 mg

  • Taking more than directed can increase the chance of stomach bleeding
  • NSAIDs (not including aspirin) increase the risk of heart attack, heart failure, and stroke. The risk is higher if you use more than directed or for longer than directed

4,000 mg

  • Taking more than directed can increase the chance of stomach bleeding

4,640 mg

  • Taking more than directed can increase the chance of stomach bleeding
  • NSAIDs (not including aspirin) increase the risk of heart attack, heart failure, and stroke. The risk is higher if you use more than directed or for longer than directed
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3. What if I am taking other medications?

When taking either acetaminophen or NSAIDs, it’s important to talk to your doctor before use if you are:

ACETAMINOPHEN
  • Taking another OTC medicine to treat pain or fever—it may contain acetaminophen
  • Taking prescription medicines containing acetaminophen
  • Taking the blood-thinning drug warfarin
NSAIDs
  • Taking aspirin for heart attack or stroke—ibuprofen may decrease this benefit of aspirin
  • Taking a blood-thinning or steroid drug
  • Taking other drugs containing an NSAID
  • Taking a blood-thinning or steroid drug
  • Taking a diuretic
  • Taking other drugs containing an NSAID
  • Taking prescription medicines for gout, diabetes, or arthritis
  • Taking blood-thinning or steroid drug
  • Taking other drugs containing an NSAID
  • Taking prescription medicines for gout, diabetes, or arthritis
  • Taking blood-thinning or steroid drug
  • Taking other drugs containing an NSAID
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4. When should I talk to a healthcare provider?

Always read and follow the product label for product information, and talk to your healthcare professional if you have questions or concerns before taking an OTC pain reliever.

Check the below boxes to answer a few questions.

ACETAMINOPHEN
Do you have liver disease?
Do you have an allergy to acetaminophen?
Do you drink three or more alcoholic beverages per day?
Are you pregnant or breastfeeding?

ACTION STEP: If you checked any of these boxes, please ask a healthcare professional (i.e., doctor, pharmacist) before use.

NSAIDs
Do you have a history of high blood pressure
or heart disease?
Do you have a history of stomach bleeding
or stomach ulcers?
Do you have a history of stomach problems,
such as heartburn?
Do you have kidney disease?
Do you have asthma?
Do you have liver cirrhosis?
Have you had a stroke?
Are you pregnant or breastfeeding?
Are you 60 or older?
Do you drink three or more alcoholic
beverages per day?

ACTION STEP: If you checked any of these boxes, please ask a healthcare professional (i.e., doctor, pharmacist) before use.

Do you have an allergy to aspirin?
Do you have heart surgery scheduled
or recently had heart surgery?

ACTION STEP: If you checked any of these boxes, please ask a healthcare professional (i.e., doctor, pharmacist) before use.

Do you have an allergy to aspirin?
Do you have heart surgery scheduled
or recently had heart surgery?

ACTION STEP: If you checked any of these boxes, please ask a healthcare professional (i.e., doctor, pharmacist) before use.

Do you have an allergy to aspirin?
Are you choosing a pain reliever for children
or teenagers who have or are recovering from
chicken pox or flu-like symptoms?

ACTION STEP: If you checked any of these boxes, please ask a healthcare professional (i.e., doctor, pharmacist) before use.

Do you have an allergy to salicylates (including aspirin)?
Are you choosing a pain reliever for children
or teenagers who have or are recovering from
chicken pox or flu-like symptoms?

ACTION STEP: If you checked any of these boxes, please ask a healthcare professional (i.e., doctor, pharmacist) before use.

ACTION STEP: If you checked any of these boxes, please ask a healthcare professional (i.e., doctor, pharmacist) before use.

*Different ingredients have different warnings. For complete warnings and information, check the Drug Facts label on your medicine or visit the KnowYourOTCs.org Medicine Cabinet to learn more about OTC active ingredients.

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