who wins in the battle of the analgesics?

If you read this column regularly you know that the focus, for the last couple of weeks, has been on over-the-counter pain medications. And believe me, if you don’t already have a headache, researching all these drugs will give you one.

The primary lesson I’ve learned is that taking an occasional pain reliever is probably as safe as the water you’re drinking to wash it down. It’s when you need to take the drugs regularly to manage pain that the side effects and risks can outweigh the benefits.

To round out the discussion, today we’ll look at ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen sodium (Aleve). Both of these medications along with aspirin are classified as NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). They help reduce fever, pain and inflammation associated with a variety of medical conditions.

There’s a very long, informative article on a website called Medlicker.com that compares the two drugs. They conclude that “Both naproxen and ibuprofen have the same mechanism of action and effects. However, they still have some differences that distinguish them from each other.

“Ibuprofen, as compared to naproxen sodium, produces less GI (gastro-intestinal) side effects like stomach upset or irritation. But, the chances of stroke and heart disease are high with ibuprofen use. That is why ibuprofen is used for treating just mild to moderate pain because it provides rapid relief. However, its prolonged use is avoided due to cardiovascular risks.

“On the other hand, naproxen sodium has got superiority on ibuprofen in terms of its analgesic (pain relieving) and anti-inflammatory effects as it provides long-term relief. Therefore, naproxen sodium is considered to be the choice of drug for inflammatory joint diseases.”

What does that mean to you? Let’s take a look at a couple of scenarios. You wake up with a backache. You’re not sure how it happened. Maybe you were doing something strenuous; maybe you were sitting too long. Which pain reliever do you take since both drugs are effective for back pain?

If the pain is mild to moderate, Medlicker recommends you start out with ibuprofen because it’s faster acting and has fewer GI side effects. But, when the pain doesn’t go away, what to do then? At the time of your next dose, take a naproxen. It will reduce the muscle inflammation and provide prolonged relief from the pain.

Scenario two: Your healthcare practitioner told you that you have mild to moderate arthritis and it’s acting up. Your knees hurt so badly you don’t want to walk across the room. What do you take?

“When it comes to treat inflammatory conditions like arthritis or ankylosing spondylitis (inflammatory arthritis affecting the spine and large joints), nothing can beat naproxen sodium as it is highly effective at relieving inflammation. Naproxen sodium is actually meant for treating inflammatory joint conditions and muscle pains. Since it stays longer in the body, it provides long-term effective relief from inflammation and pain in the inflammatory diseases,” Medlicker says.

And, what about that headache? Ibuprofen is considered the best choice for tension headaches because it works quickly. A migraine most likely will do better with naproxen sodium.

Remember, never take more than the recommended dosage. Read the labels and included pamphlets carefully. Ask your primary care provider or your pharmacist if over-the-counter drugs will interact with the medications you’re already taking. Be aware that there is a long list of medicines that should not be taken at the same time as NSAIDs.

Do not give over-the-counter medicines to your children without consulting with their pediatrician.

If you aren’t confused about pain relievers by now, I haven’t done my job. And, if you want more, there’s plenty to read online, but, a discussion with your healthcare provider would probably be a lot more beneficial.

Kathy Hubbard is a member of Bonner General Health Foundation Advisory Council. She can be reached at 264-4029 or kathyleehubbard@yahoo.com.