Aspirin and ibuprofen both relieve pain and swelling, but aspirin can also treat fever and help prevent blood clots. However, aspirin is not safe for young children due to potential complications.
Read on to learn more about the differences between aspirin and ibuprofen and when to use each.
Aspirin and ibuprofen both belong to a class of medications called nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Both of these drugs can be used to reduce inflammation and treat pain, but aspirin can also be used as an anti-platelet medication to help prevent blood clots from forming.
Both aspirin and ibuprofen are usually taken as oral over-the-counter (OTC) medications. Both can be found in pill, powder, and liquid form. In some cases, a doctor may prescribe you more powerful versions of either medication.
Aspirin is made of acetylsalicylic acid. A form of salicylic acid, this chemical was first created using willow bark but can be found in many plants.
In the late 1800s, this chemical was investigated by a German dye company called Bayer. Bayer discovered that certain waste products from dye manufacturing could be used to treat fevers, and a research division was set up to see what other medicinal uses the chemicals could have.
Aspirin was first sold in 1899 under the brand name Bayer, becoming a popular medication for reducing fever and pain. It also prevents the body from releasing a chemical that causes blood to clot.
Ibuprofen is made from propionic acid, a chemical produced by the breakdown of naturally occurring amino acids and fatty acids in your body. Scientists developed this product in the 1950s after searching for an aspirin substitute that could be used as a long-term treatment for rheumatoid arthritis.
While aspirin and ibuprofen are well known by their generic names, they’re frequently associated with common brand names, too.
|Brand names for aspirin||Brand names for ibuprofen|
Ibuprofen can be used in infants 6 months and older, or in younger infants if directed by a doctor. Dosages in young children are based on their weight, with doses ranging from 50 to 400 mg.
Aspirin is effective for reducing pain and fever in children but is not recommended for infants, children, or teens because it can cause Reye’s Syndrome. Reye’s Syndrome is a rare condition that can develop after aspirin use in children and lead to brain and liver damage.
While both can be taken to treat pain and inflammation, there are some differences. Aspirin can help reduce fevers and prevent blood clots, while ibuprofen is reserved mostly for pain.
Aspirin vs. ibuprofen for headache
Both aspirin and ibuprofen can be used to treat headaches, and for most people, it’s a matter of preference.
Both medications have risks when used every day, but studies have shown that high doses of aspirin may be particularly effective for treating severe headaches and migraine. Speak with a doctor if you’re having trouble managing headaches with OTC NSAIDs, and don’t take more than the recommended doses.
Aspirin vs. ibuprofen for back pain
Both aspirin and ibuprofen can provide relief for inflammation and pain that might be causing your back pain. But research hints that how well they help depends on what’s causing your pain. If you have chronic back pain, you may want to speak with a doctor about other treatments or more permanent and effective pain management options.
Aspirin vs. ibuprofen for general pain
Generally, it’s a matter of preference which one you choose for general pain and inflammation. Both can treat these problems.
Both aspirin and ibuprofen are generally considered safe for adults, but every medication has side effects. With both, you can run into problems if you use them daily — especially when it comes to your stomach. Aspirin and ibuprofen can both irritate your stomach lining and cause digestive problems. There are other side effects that are unique to each medication.
Aspirin risks and side effects
Outside of stomach discomfort, perhaps one of the greatest risks with taking aspirin is its ability to prevent blood clotting. This is desired in some cases — like after a heart attack or stroke — but it can also lead to serious bleeding problems.
Common side effects of aspirin include:
More serious reactions can also occur, like:
- swelling in the face or throat
- wheezing or trouble breathing
- racing heart
- shortness of breath
- cold, clammy skin
- bloody vomit
- vomit that looks like coffee grounds
- blood in your stools
If you experience any of these symptoms, you should stop taking aspirin and see a doctor.
Ibuprofen risks and side effects
Like aspirin, frequent ibuprofen use can result in stomach problems and even bleeding ulcers. But ibuprofen doesn’t have the same effect on blood clotting as aspirin, so it doesn’t carry the same bleeding risks.
Common side effects of ibuprofen include:
More severe problems that can come from using ibuprofen include:
- sudden or unexplained weight gain
- shortness of breath
- swelling of the abdomen, legs, arms, face, or hands
- blisters or rash
- pain in the upper right part of the stomach
- yellowing of the skin or eyes (jaundice)
- pale skin
- racing heart
- cloudy or bloody urine
- back pain
- difficult or painful urination
- vision changes
If any of these symptoms appear, stop taking ibuprofen until you’ve spoken with a doctor.
Some medications can increase the effects of others or even cause other problems. Since aspirin and ibuprofen are both NSAIDs, there’s a chance each can increase the effect of the other. They can also interact with certain medications. Speak with a doctor about any other medications you might be taking, even if they’re OTC drugs.
Some medications that can interact with ibuprofen include:
- some vitamins and supplements
- herbal medications
- angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors
- angiotensin receptor blockers
- beta blockers
Medications that are known to react with aspirin include:
There are specific medical conditions that might also cause concern with both aspirin and ibuprofen.
You should speak with your doctor before taking aspirin if you have:
- asthma or chronic nasal problems
- bleeding disorders
- liver disease
- kidney disease
- alcohol dependency
Conditions that could cause complications with ibuprofen use include:
There are also specific situations where you may want to speak with a doctor about aspirin and ibuprofen use, even if you normally take these medications with no problem.
One of these situations is if you have a planned surgery. Since both these medications can have some impact on bleeding, your doctor may want you to stop taking them for some time before and after surgery.
Speak with a doctor about using aspirin or ibuprofen if you’re pregnant or plan to become pregnant.
There are a number of other things you can do to help relieve pain and inflammation if you need an alternative to aspirin or ibuprofen. Acetaminophen is an analgesic pain reliever that’s considered safe for most people, even during infancy or pregnancy.
You can also try holistic pain management strategies like:
Speak with a doctor before starting any new herbal or nutritional supplements. These can sometimes interact with other medications you’re taking.
Aspirin and ibuprofen can be used to treat pain and inflammation. Aspirin can also be used for fever and to prevent blot clots, unlike ibuprofen. These medications are generally considered safe in adults, but aspirin can cause rare complications in young children and should be avoided.
In most cases, aspirin and ibuprofen can be used for a wide variety of aches and pains, and which you choose is a matter of preference.