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You might consider yourself someone who doesn’t take painkillers very often. When you compare yourself to that one friend with arthritis or that neck issue who pops a couple of Advil or Aspirin several times a day every single day, you might say, “I barely take painkillers.” But, when it comes to assessing your health and habits, it’s not really great to compare yourself to others—just think about what’s good for your body. If you take a painkiller every time you get a drinking-related headache (let’s say, once a week), any time PMS cramps kick in, and each time your workout leaves your sore, you may wind up taking painkillers a couple times a week. That’s actually quite a lot. We aren’t saying that’s a bad thing but, if you’re going to expose your body to something that often, shouldn’t you know a thing or two about it? Here are facts about Advil and similar painkillers.

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There are two main painkillers

When talking about over-the-counter pain relievers, there are two main types: acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Both of these can treat fever and pain, but only NSAIDs can reduce inflammation.

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Further subcategories

Within NSAIDs, there are even subcategories. There are well over a dozen, but the most common are aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen. Aspirin is known for its anti-clotting properties, but it can pose a risk of stomach issues. Ibuprofen is known for providing relief quickly, but it also leaves the body quickly. Naproxen provides longer relief than Ibuprofen but should be taken in smaller doses.

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Brand examples

Some of the best-known brands of acetaminophens are Tylenol, Exedrin, and Panadol. Some of the top brands of NSAIDs are Advil, Aleve, and Motrin.

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Acetaminophen is gentler

It’s important to know the difference between these two types of painkillers because you should limit your intake of NSAIDs—these can be hard on your stomach, increasing the chance of ulcers and bleeding. Only take NSAIDs if you’re dealing with inflammatory pain, like that from arthritis or menstrual cramps.

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NSAIDs and headaches

While NSAIDs can provide relief from headaches, migraines, and fever, if those are the only symptoms you’re experiencing, reach for acetaminophen. You should try to only take NSAIDs for inflammatory symptoms, as they do pose slightly higher risks than acetaminophen.

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But acetaminophen has side effects too

You aren’t totally in the clear when it comes to side effects with acetaminophen, so you should limit this stuff, too. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage if taken in excess. Limit intake to 3,250 milligrams and try to seriously limit or eliminate alcohol when taking these painkillers.

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Yes, generic are the same

If you can go generic, do. Large brands don’t want you to know this but the genetic stuff has the same active ingredients as the brand name, and are just as effective.

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When taking aspirin and NSAIDs together

If you take a low dose of pure aspirin daily for blood pressure, be careful when adding an aspirin- containing NSAID also. NSAIDs can interfere with aspirin’s effectiveness, so it’s important to take your aspirin first.

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NSAIDs and blood thinners

Ibuprofen and Advil both act as blood thinners, which is why if an individual is already taking a blood thinner, she should not use either of these painkillers to treat pain or inflammation.

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NSAIDs and heart attack

Taking Ibuprofen or Advil regularly, and in high doses, can increase our risk of heart attack and stroke. Unfortunately, this is true even if you don’t have a history of these conditions.

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Advil isn’t for pregnant women

Pregnant women and mothers who are nursing are advised not to take Advil and other NSAIDs. Young children, and fetuses are at a much higher risk for stomach bleeding, and it is believed that some of the medicine can pass through a mother to her fetus or her breast milk.

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Take as needed

When the bottle says “take as needed,” it means it. Just because you can take a new dose every four to six hours, doesn’t mean you should. If the pain has subsided and has not come back when the four to six hours rolls around, don’t take another dose—you should always aim to limit your intake.

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Prescription vs. non-prescription

There are such things as prescription-strength NSAIDs. These are typically prescribed for chronic conditions. Temporary conditions like sprains or cramps can be treated with over-the-counter varieties. Never combine the two together.

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Not everyone reacts the same

You may have noticed that you need more painkillers to find relief than some of your friends. Or, perhaps just one tablet works for you when your friend needs two. There are a lot of variables that contribute to how each body responds to painkillers, including how quickly one’s body metabolizes and eliminates them.

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Patients with these conditions should steer clear

Certain individuals should not take—or should at least greatly limit—intake of NSAIDs. These include those with Crohn’s disease, acid reflux, recent ulcers, limited liver or kidney function, asthma, or nasal polyps. Individuals who drink more than seven alcoholic drinks a week should also limit their intake.

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