What do you know about over-the-counter pain relief medicines?

A UK survey says a third of adults don’t know the difference between aspirin, ibuprofen and paracetamol. They are all readily available over-the-counter. You may think they all do very similar things, but not so.

Well known brands: Nurofen, Panadol, Anadin

Painkiller differences:


Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug.

Used to reduce temperature. relieves pain and inflammation caused by rheumatic and muscular pain, sprains, backache, headache, sore throat, toothache and period pain. It can also be used to treat flu-like symptoms and reduce fever in adults. In low doses, it can be used to thin the blood. Can cause gastric irritation, should not be given to under 16s.

Aspirin can mix badly with other medicines, vitamins, herbals, or dietary supplements. People who are already using a prescribed medicine to thin the blood should talk to a health professional before using aspirin, even occasionally.


A non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug.

Similar to aspirin but fewer side effects. used to relieve pain and inflammation caused by rheumatic and muscular pain, headaches, backache, and period pain. It can also be used to relieve cold and ‘flu-like’ symptoms.

Ibuprofen can interact with medications, including herbal and complementary preparations. Check with your pharmacist or doctor before taking it if you have blood clotting problems, peptic ulcers, kidney or heart problems.


A non-opioid analgesic painkiller.

Used to bring down temperature, ease mild to moderate pain from headaches, toothache, muscle and joint pains and period pains.

Serious harm from analgesics is considered rare, but a paracetamol overdose can fatally damage the liver.

Usually safe to take paracetamol with other medications but check with your doctor or pharmacist if you suffer from liver or kidney problems. Be careful if you’re taking other non-prescription remedies, such as cold treatments, which may also contain paracetamol.


The survey involving 1122 people was carried out by Panadol to coincide with Ask About Medicines Week, a campaign that aims to encourage us to ask more questions about medicines as we get older.

  • One in three people said that they would take the first available medicine. Women were more likely to make an informed choice, with 39 percent thinking about which medicine to take compared with only 27 percent of men.
  • Most people knew that some painkillers should be avoided for individuals with certain medical conditions but 40 percent had no idea what these painkillers were.
  • Women were also shown to have better knowledge of pain relief, with 51% of women aware of the painkillers which can be inappropriate for those with heart problems, asthma or digestive disorders – compared with 41% of men.


This material is for general information only and does not constitute medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make or refrain from making any decisions. Always obtain advice from your GP or pharmacist for your own particular situation.