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Ibuprofen vs. Acetaminophen: How Are They Different?

Introduction

Acetaminophen and ibuprofen are medications used to treat pain and fever. However, they have some differences.

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Drug features

Acetaminophen vs. ibuprofen

Acetaminophen belongs to a class of drugs called analgesics. Ibuprofen belongs to the drug class called nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Both drugs decrease pain. Ibuprofen also decreases inflammation.

Acetaminophen and ibuprofen come in many different forms, including:

  • oral tablets
  • oral capsules
  • oral suspension
  • chewable tablets

Ibuprofen also comes in concentrated oral drops. Acetaminophen comes in these other forms:

Do not use acetaminophen or ibuprofen for longer than 10 days.
  • oral elixir
  • oral solution
  • extended-release oral tablets and caplets
  • rectal suppositories
  • rapid melt tablets
  • effervescent tablets

Brands

Brand-name versions

You may know acetaminophen as the brand-name drug Tylenol. A common brand name for ibuprofen is Advil. More brand names for these drugs are listed below.

Brand names for acetaminophen Brand names for ibuprofen
Acephen Advil
FeverAll ElixSure
Mapap Ibuprom
NeoPAP Ibutab 200
Tylenol Midol
  Motrin
Tab-Profen
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Ages

In children

  • Ibuprofen can be used in people who are older than 6 months.
  • Acetaminophen can be used in all ages, but you should consult a doctor for children who are younger than 2 years.

Both drugs may be used in infants, children, and adults. Ibuprofen can be used in people who are 6 months or older. Acetaminophen can be used for people of any age, but you should talk to your child’s doctor before using it if your child is younger than 2 years.

Infants and young children can be given liquid forms and suppositories. Older children, who can chew and swallow more easily, may take the chewable or orally disintegrating tablets. Strength and dosage vary according to age, so always check the product instructions for exact amounts.

Cost and availability

Cost and availability

Acetaminophen and ibuprofen are available in every pharmacy. They’re relatively affordable. GoodRx can give you an idea of specific prices in stores near you.

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Side effects

Side effects

The side effects of acetaminophen and ibuprofen may differ. This is because your body breaks them down differently.

For example, acetaminophen is broken down and removed by the liver. Acetaminophen has a warning about liver damage it can cause that can be fatal (cause death). Liver damage can happen if you take too much in a 24-hour period. You shouldn’t take more than one product that contains acetaminophen at once. For more information, read about the dangers of acetaminophen overdose.

Ibuprofen, on the other hand, is removed from your body by your kidneys. Taking it for a long time can cause kidney damage and stomach bleeding. Using high doses of ibuprofen for longer than recommended can increase your risk of:

  • blood clots
  • heart attack
  • stroke

Check out examples of side effects of acetaminophen and ibuprofen below.

Common side effects Acetaminophen Ibuprofen
nausea
vomiting
headache
trouble sleeping
pain above your stomach
heartburn
 
Serious side effects Acetaminophen Ibuprofen
allergic reactions
liver damage
kidney damage
sores or white spots on your lips or mouth
heart attack or stroke
stomach bleeding
edema (fluid buildup in your body)
 
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Drug interactions

Drug interactions

Acetaminophen and ibuprofen can cause dangerous interactions when you take them with certain medications. To reduce your risk, make sure you tell your doctor about all drugs, supplements, and herbs you take.

Both acetaminophen and ibuprofen can interact with alcohol and the blood thinner warfarin.

Acetaminophen also interacts with:

  • aprepitant
  • carbamazepine
  • cholestyramine
  • dasatinib
  • fosaprepitant
  • imatinib
  • isoniazid
  • lamotrigine
  • metyrapone
  • phenobarbital
  • phenytoin
  • probenecid
  • sorafenib

Ibuprofen also interacts with:

  • aspirin
  • enalapril
  • furosemide hydrochlorothiazide
  • ketoralac
  • lisinopril
  • lithium
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Warnings

Use with certain medical conditions

Taking either acetaminophen or ibuprofen may cause problems if you have certain health issues. Talk to your doctor before using acetaminophen or ibuprofen if you have:

  • a history of blood clots
  • liver disease
  • kidney disease

You should also talk to your doctor before using acetaminophen if you have:

  • glucose-6-phosphate-dehydrogenase (G6PD) deficiency
  • phenylketonuria

Ibuprofen can cause issues in people who have:

  • a history of bleeding or ulcers in their stomach or intestines
  • asthma, especially if it’s aspirin-sensitive
  • heart disease
  • high blood pressure
  • anemia
  • blood clotting disorders

Takeaway

Talk with your doctor

Acetaminophen and ibuprofen both treat pain, but they work slightly differently in your body. They’re available in different forms and strengths. Each drug can pose different safety issues, especially if you have existing health conditions. If you’re still not sure if one of these drugs is a good option for you, talk to your doctor.

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