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Pain-reliever options giving you a headache?

Are you still not certain which pain-relievers do what? Dr. Steven Lamm explains the different varieties of medicines available over-the-counter.

You have a headache... or perhaps a toothache. Maybe your back hurts, or you have a raging fever. Actually you just want to keep your heart healthy.

Well pretty much for all of those reasons people typically reach for the nearest bottle of analgesic — more commonly known as the everyday pain reliever — Tylenol, Aspirin, Advil, Motrin, and others.

But with the different varieties available over-the-counter, is there really a difference between them? Should you take one for a backache and another for a fever? Are there any risks involved?

Dr. Steven Lamm, of NYU's School of Medicine, says in general the biggest thing to consider with pain medications is to make sure you're not just masking the pain you feel, but are seeking to diagnose and treat it. Also, the dosage and length of medication can depend on the purpose you are using it for, age, gender, and other risk factors you might have, so it is best to consult your physician. Here are some additional points from Dr. Lamm:

Acetaminophen (e.g. Tylenol)

Effective for mild to moderate pain disorders (tooth, headache)

Useful for lowering temp

Be careful not to exceed 4g/day and do not combine with other acetaminophen products

Alcohol drinkers and individuals with liver disease should be cautious -Also has been associated with blood pressure issues

Aspirin (e.g. Bayer)

Useful for preventing cardiovascular conditions and stroke

Very low doses (around 80mg) effective as anti-platelet agents

Modest doses effective for mild to moderate pain conditions

High doses required for anti-inflammatory effect

Has been associated with stomach ulcers and bleeding

Avoid giving to children with febrile illness (Reyes Syndrome)

Being studied in preventing colon cancer

Ibuprofen (e.g. Motrin, Advil) and Naproxen (e.g. Aleve)

Effective for mild to moderate pain especially for musculoskeletal injuries

Effective in lowering temperature

Also has associated with stomach ulcers and bleeding

Can interfere with blood pressure medications

Can also be associated with kidney problems