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Ibuprofen vs. Aspirin: Which Painkiller Is Best?

Both are helpful, but there's a clear winner.

Headaches, sore muscles, toothaches, and other unfortunate pangs in our bodies can have most of us reaching for a bottle of painkillers — but should you be grabbing your ibuprofen or aspirin? Or skipping them both to take acetaminophen instead?

As the most common over-the-counter pain relief options, there’s a good chance you have all three options sitting in your medicine cabinet. That includes bottles of Advil for ibuprofen ($15.41 for 200, Amazon), Bayer for aspirin ($19.55 for 500, Amazon), and Tylenol for acetaminophen ($9.99 for 50, Amazon).

If you’re like me, you also frequently find yourself Googling which one is the best to take for whatever specific ouchie strikes. However, reading lengthy medical jargon is usually the last thing you want to deal with when trying to get rid of any aches.

So, we did the research for you and broke it down as simply as possible to help you feel good again as quick as possible:

  • When to take ibuprofen: According to the experts at, ibuprofen is the better choice for chronic and long-term problems like arthritis, menstrual cramps, and back pain. It’s also good for easing painful prickles of sunburns thanks to ibuprofen’s anti-inflammatory effect.
  • When to take aspirin: Although they’re both nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), you should be reaching for aspirin less often than ibuprofen. It’s fine for the occasional headache or other mild body pains that pop up every now and then, but points out that it can be rough on our digestive tracts when taken frequently (especially if you already have GI issues). It’s also not safe for children or pregnant women.

Basically, ibuprofen is ideal for getting rid of pain on a regular basis and aspirin should only be taken from time to time. You might be thinking, wait, don’t some people take aspirin every day for heart health reasons? Yes, but that’s usually in very small doses and should only be done with a doctor’s recommendation. You should also be careful if you tend to reach for Aleve ($17.97 for 270, Amazon), which is another NSAID called naproxen. Taking too much of it can cause the same type of GI side effects as aspirin.

As for acetaminophen, it can help with things like lowering a fever and can ease sudden pain like headaches, but doesn’t have the same anti-inflammatory properties as NSAIDs that help with lingering aches.

Keep all of this in mind (or print it off and tape it in your medicine cabinet!) and you’ll feel better ASAP the next time your body decides to be a jerk!

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