Mar 04, 2021

A Breakdown of the Differences Between Tylenol, Advil, and Aleve

You’re probably all too familiar with the annoyance of everyday aches and pains we all experience from time to time such as tension headaches, migraines, stomach cramps or muscle soreness. And as you make your way to your medicine cabinet, you then begin the struggle of deciding which one to take to alleviate your discomfort. 

Tylenol, Advil and Aleve are three of the most popular over-the-counter painkillers available on the market. They all fulfill the same purpose to soothe and reduce your aches and pains, but work in different ways as they are composed of varying active ingredients. It can be very confusing, overwhelming and frustrating to understand the differences between these three medications and determine which one you should take to alleviate what ailment. Any of them may be able to help your condition in some way depending on your ailment, but one of the three will be better suited to your ailment and therefore more effective in helping you feel better. 

We have put together an overview of these three different medications breaking down their differences here, so navigating future aches and pains and trips to the medicine cabinet can be a little easier. 

Tylenol 

Tylenol is the generic name for the over-the-counter drug Acetaminophen. You may also see it on your drugstore shelves under the name Anacin or Panadol. It is used to treat minor to moderate aches and pains from headaches, menstrual periods, backaches, osteoarthritis, aches from the cold or flu or reduce fever. It is not, however meant to treat inflammation like other medications such as NSAIDs are suited for.  While Tylenol is usually used to treat minor to moderate pain, it can be combined with opioid pain medication to treat more severe pain typically experienced after surgery. 

Available as a pill, chewable tablet and in liquid form, it’s important to stick within the recommended dose as Tylenol can lead to severe damage to your liver. While tylenol is generally safe, some individuals may experience a reaction in the form of a skin rash. Exorbitant use can be very dangerous as well, leading to liver failure, especially when used in combination with alcohol.. 

Here’s a rundown of the facts you should know about Tylenol: 

  • Used for pain relief

  • May be given to infants

  • Refrain from giving to children with underlying liver abnormalities. Must also not be used in combination with medications that affect liver function

  • May be given to children in preparation for surgery, and can be used right up until their surgery is scheduled

  • Not associated with risk of heart attack or stroke, but is associated with risk of liver damage and failure

Advil

Advil along with Motrin generic brand names for the over-the-counter drug known as Ibuprofen. It is used to treat mild and moderate pain from ailments such as migraines, menstrual cramps or rheumatoid arthritis. It is also used to treat fever and inflammation, which means it is a good choice to reduce swelling and manage pain from injuries. 

Advil is available in pill form or over the counter, but can also come in a liquid form as a prescription. In individuals prone to peptic ulcer disease, it is advised to take precautions when using ibuprofen and other anti-inflammatory medications as they may lead to gastrointestinal bleeding or ulcers. To alleviate any GI discomfort, it is advised to take ibuprofen in combination with food. However, if you do suffer from GI problems, it's generally advised to refrain from use of ibuprofen as it can worsen symptoms and cause damage to the intestinal lining. 

Here’s what you should keep in mind about Advil: 

  • Used for pain relief and as an anti-inflammatory

  • Available in pill form over the counter or in liquid form as a prescription

  • Not advised for use in children with gastrointestinal or kidney conditions. Also refrain 

from use in combination with medications that affect kidney function. 

  • Recommended to be taken in combination with food or milk to prevent GI discomfort 

  • Not advised to be taken 72 hours before a surgery 

  • Not advised for use in children under 2 years old

Aleve

Aleve’s name sounds exactly like what it is intended for, to alleviate aches and pains. You may also see Aleve marketed under the name Midol, known for its use as a treatment for menstrual cramps. Both Aleve and Midol are generic names for the brand name, naproxen sodium. It can be used similarly to ibuprofen in that they treat the same symptoms. Unlike ibuprofen however, Aleve also contains caffeine and a mild antihistamine, and its effects last far longer than NSAIDs, up to 4 hours longer than Advil in fact. Similarly to ibuprofen, Aleve can also be used to help reduce inflammation and swelling, as well as manage pain from injuries. 

Similarly to ibuprofen, Aleve is also available over the counter in pill form and in liquid form when prescribed. The same risks that apply to ibuprofen also apply to Aleve in individuals who have gastrointestinal conditions. It is advised against use in those with a history of ulcers or inflammatory bowel disorders and presents a higher risk of stomach ulcers as compared to ibuprofen.

Here are some take-aways in regards to Aleve: 

  • Used for pain relief and as an anti-inflammatory 

  • Available in pill form over the counter or in liquid form as a prescription

  • Stays in the system longer than acetaminophen or ibuprofen 

  • Not advised for use in children with gastrointestinal or kidney conditions. Also refrain from use in combination with medications that affect kidney function. 

  • Recommended to be taken with food or milk

  • Not advised to be taken 72 hours before a surgery

  • Not advised for use in children under 2 years old

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