A major symptom of arthritis is joint pain. Sometimes it’s mild, sometimes it’s intense. Sometimes the pain can even be disabling. Fortunately, different drugs can help relieve this pain.
Popular pain-relieving drugs that you can purchase over the counter at any drugstore are Advil and Tylenol. Both can temporarily relieve mild to moderate arthritis pain.
What’s in these drugs? Are they safe? Is one better at relieving arthritis pain than the other? What else do they treat?
Advil is a brand name for the non-narcotic, pain-relieving drug called ibuprofen. It’s available in oral tablets and liquid-filled capsules. Other over-the-counter brand names for ibuprofen include Midol, Motrin, and Nuprin.
Advil can be used to treat general aches and pains as well as help relieve mild fever. Advil may relieve mild to moderate joint pain from:
- rheumatoid arthritis (RA)
- psoriatic arthritis
- ankylosing spondylitis
- gouty arthritis
Other Advil products are specifically marketed to treat other types of pain.
People who are older than 12 years can take Advil. The typical recommended dose is one or two tablets or capsules every four to six hours, taking no more than six tablets or capsules in a 24-hour period.
How Advil works
Advil is a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID). It helps temporarily relieve pain and fever by reducing tissue inflammation.
Advil blocks the production of certain chemicals in the body. This reduces inflammation and pain. It also accounts for ibuprofen’s fever-reducing action.
In arthritis, the soft tissues surrounding the joints become inflamed. This causes pain. RA, an autoimmune disease, causes inflammation when the body’s immune system attacks the soft tissues that surround the joints.
Advil’s side effects
Possible side effects of Advil include:
- constipation or diarrhea
- gas or bloating
- adverse skin reactions
- ringing in the ears
Serious side effects include a higher risk of heart attack or stroke. Talk to your doctor if you experience any side effects. Don’t take Advil if you take blood thinners or steroids.
Advil may also cause sores, bleeding, or holes in the stomach or intestines. This is not common. However, the risk is higher for people who:
- take doses that are higher than recommended
- are older
- take NSAIDs for a long time
- are in poor health
- drink three or more alcoholic drinks per day
Tylenol is one brand of the non-narcotic pain-reliever called acetaminophen. Other brands of acetaminophen include Anacin Aspirin Free and Daytril.
Tylenol may relieve minor aches and pains and reduce fever. It has little anti-inflammatory effect, though, which means it won’t do much for pain from inflammatory arthritis.
Acetaminophen comes in many forms and strengths. The dose depends on both the form and strength of the product.
How Tylenol works
Acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol, is one of the most widely used pain relievers in the world. However, scientists don't know exactly how it works to relieve pain. It is thought that this drug increases the body's pain threshold so that pain is actually felt less.
Tylenol’s side effects
Tylenol may cause serious liver damage — even death — if you take more than recommended. Always follow the package directions with care. Note the milligrams per dose.
Never take more than 4,000 mg of acetaminophen per day. Acetaminophen can be sold by itself, like in Tylenol. It can also be mixed with other drugs in many OTC cough and cold remedies. Reading the labels of these drugs, especially when you take them together, can help you avoid taking too much acetaminophen.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently came out with a new warning about acetaminophen. The drug has been associated with a risk of rare but serious skin reactions. If you have a skin reaction when you take Tylenol, stop and consult your doctor immediately.
Advil vs. Tylenol
Overall, both OTC drugs are safe and effective as long as you use them correctly. They both do a good job relieving pain. However, if you take them incorrectly both can cause severe side effects. Deciding which one is best for you may come down to your type of pain and your medical history.
Advil reduces inflammation, which reduces pain. It works best on pain caused by inflammation, such as pain from RA.
Tylenol works to lower your body’s pain threshold. It works best for pain that is not specifically from inflammation, such as pain from osteoarthritis.
You should talk to your doctor before you use either of these drugs if you have any medical conditions. You should also talk to your doctor or pharmacist if you take other drugs, including other over-the-counter drugs and herbal remedies, to make sure they won’t interact with either of these drugs.