Aspirin vs. Ibuprofen: The Difference Between These Pain Relievers and What to Use Each 1 For

You’re stiff the day after a run. Maybe your back is feeling a bad night’s sleep. Or perhaps you enjoyed yourself a little too much during your night out. Whatever the cause, you’re feeling sore, and you need some relief. You have a bottle of aspirin in one hand and ibuprofen (or their cost-effective generic equivalents) in the other, but which of these pain relievers should you take? Well, that depends.

Not all over-the-counter pain relievers are the same. |

It’s true that aspirin and ibuprofen (Advil and Motrin) are both pain relievers, but they work differently and treat certain symptoms better. Here’s the difference between aspirin and ibuprofen, and what to use them for.

Aspirin vs. ibuprofen — what they are and when to take them

Aspirin and ibuprofen are common over the counter medicine pain relievers, and you probably have some of each lying around the house. But they’re not the same.


Aspirin works best for low-level pain. | Source: iStock

It’s also called acetylsalicylic acid, and like other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) it’s a good pain medicine. It works by blocking enzymes produced by your body that cause pain and swelling.

Aspirin is great for low-level pain and fevers, but it shines in another role. When prescribed by a doctor and taken in conjunction with a healthy diet, it can potentially help prevent heart attack and stroke.


If you have sore muscles, cramps, earaches, or toothaches, or you need to recover from a hangover, ibuprofen is your best bet. It works quickly, but it also wears off sooner than other NSAIDs, so you might be taking more of it to maintain the pain-relieving effects. Ibuprofen isn’t the best option for run-of-the-mill headaches, though.

Why you need to be careful when taking them

Just because you can walk into any drug store and buy a bottle of aspirin or ibuprofen doesn’t mean they are risk-free.

Ibuprofen is more dangerous than you think, partly because it leads to a higher risk of heart problems. Mixing ibuprofen with blood-thinners can be lethal, especially in high doses or over a long period of time.

Aspirin has its share of terrifying side effects, including the risk of gastrointestinal bleeding and stroke due to broken blood vessels.

What if you took aspirin and ibuprofen together?

Mixing aspirin and ibuprofen isn’t lethal, but you shouldn’t make a habit of it. | CentralITAlliance/iStock/Getty Images

Since aspirin and ibuprofen are both NSAID pain relievers, it’s safe to take them at the same time, according to Medical News Today. However, popping both simultaneously isn’t the best idea. Combining the two drugs increases the risk of feeling the side effects of each:

  • Stomach problems, such as bleeding, ulcers, and diarrhea,
  • Kidney problems;
  • High blood pressure;
  • Fluid retention that causes swelling in your legs and hands;
  • Heart problems;
  • Internal bleeding.

How you can avoid the pain meds altogether

Exercise and healthy eating are ways to avoid having to take pain relievers too often. | Mike Powell/Getty Images

Prescription pain pills can be dangerous and addictive, and even over-the-counter medicines aren’t without their risks. However, if you’re dealing with low-level pain, you can avoid pain meds with some doctor-approved alternatives.

Healthy eating, massage therapy, meditation, acupuncture, physical therapy, exercise, and yoga can help treat pain. Best off, none of them have risky side effects.

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