Drug Facts: Acetaminophen vs. Ibuprofen



Pop quiz!

Quick, what would you do in these three following scenarios?


Scenario A (Pain)

You wake up with a pounding headache, and you just can’t seem to get out of bed. Walking over to the restroom seems unbearable, and you just want to go back to sleep and get over the pain.

Scenario B (Inflammation)

You’re on your way back from class when the worst menstrual cramps you’ve had just hit you. Doubled over, you make your way to the nearest bench and call a friend for help.

Scenario C (Fever)

You’re studying for a midterm when slowly you start sweating and feeling really hot. You go to turn up the AC but the feeling continues, and when you take your temperature it’s at 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit.


Faced with these scenarios, most people would choose to take a pain reliever or fever reducer from their medical supplies, but do you choose to take acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil)? Read on to find out what you should in each scenario!



(aka paracetamol, found in Tylenol, Panadol, and Anacin)


Even though how it works isn’t entirely clear, acetaminophen is one of the most common medications prescribed for mild to moderate pain, since reducing pain is its primary function. Try taking a pill the next time you’re feeling a headache, like in scenario A. [1]


It’s not so good at decreasing inflammation, however, so it’s not the recommended option for menstrual cramps, as in scenario B.


Lastly, for fever, acetaminophen is just as effective as ibuprofen, so take whichever one is more convenient if you’re faced with a situation like scenario C. [2]



(found in Advil, Midol, and Motrin)


Though both are almost equally as effective for pain, ibuprofen just beats out the competition here, doing more damage to pain per dose than acetaminophen. Thus, while acetaminophen is usually the go-to option, consider ibuprofen if you’re in a situation like scenario A. [3]


Part of the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug family (NSAID), ibuprofen works more effectively for inflammation and should be your first-choice option. Use it in situations like scenario B or even for common body aches and pains. [4]


In the case of fever, both drugs are fairly evenly matched, so again, it’s a case of convenience in choosing between the two.


watch out for side effects!

Even though both drugs are frequently prescribed, each one does come with its own list of side effects and drug interactions, so be sure to read those on the label. Don’t simply take the drug without knowing how much you’re taking! And remember, don’t drink alcohol while taking any medical drugs. Alcohol affects the metabolism of each drug in the body, potentially resulting in vastly different and dangerous effects. [5]


bottom line


While acetaminophen might not work as effectively as ibuprofen, it carries fewer adverse consequences, so read their labels carefully to see what applies to you.


Ibuprofen is the clear winner here!


Both drugs end in a tie, so it’s your call.

Important note: The information in this article is simply meant to convey existing information about each drug collected from reliable sources. If you have a question about any of these facts, always consult a medical professional.


more in be well

References ▾

  1. “Acetaminophen.” medlineplus.gov. (2017).
  2. “Tylenol vs Advil: What's the difference?” drugs.com. (2016).
  3. “Overview review: Comparative efficacy of oral ibuprofen and paracetamol (acetaminophen) across acute and chronic pain conditions.” Eur J Pain. (2015).
  4. “Ibuprofen.” medlineplus.gov. (2016).
  5. “Acetaminophen vs. Ibuprofen: Which Works Better? (Infographic).” health.clevelandclinic.org. (2013).