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Ibuprofen Vs. Aspirin: Know the Difference

Medically Reviewed by Carlos A. Baez, M.D.

Ibuprofen and aspirin are two of the most common over-the-counter pain relievers you can find. While they treat a lot of the same things, they both have unique attributes that make them different. Let’s take a look at the specifics behind ibuprofen and aspirin: what makes them similar, what makes them different, and which one is the right choice for you.

How are ibuprofen and aspirin similar?

Both ibuprofen and aspirin fall under the category of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, and they are two of the most common over-the-counter medications used to reduce pain. If you’re feeling sore after a workout, or dealing with a headache, or recovering from a minor accident, ibuprofen and aspirin are safe and effective ways to help you feel better. In fact, both are FDA-approved to help alleviate moderate pain and fever. In addition to headaches, examples of moderate pain include:

  •  Back pain
  • Toothaches
  • Sprains
  • Muscle aches and pain
  • Menstrual cramps

Another commonality they have is their availability. You can find ibuprofen and aspirin at just about every pharmacy and grocery store in the country.

How are ibuprofen and aspirin different?

The difference between ibuprofen and aspirin are slight but relevant. For starters, aspirin is derived from salicylate acid, to which some folks may have an insensitivity – you should consult with your doctor if you have any concerns about that. Most people, though, don’t have salicylate insensitivity, making aspirin perfectly safe for the majority of the population. Additionally, according to the American Heart Association, aspirin can help prevent the risk of heart attack, which can’t be said of ibuprofen. That’s not to say ibuprofen doesn’t come with its own unique benefits. The Mayo Clinic says Ibuprofen is better for managing chronic pain because of its anti-inflammatory qualities. People with arthritis use it to reduce periodic flareups of joint pain. Ibuprofen does have its ceiling, however, and it is not meant to be used long-term, so keep your doctor in the loop whenever you use ibuprofen in such a situation.

When giving aspirin or ibuprofen to children, always consult your pediatrician. For example, aspirin has been linked with Reye’s syndrome and children who are recovering from the flu or chickenpox should not be given aspirin.

Which is more effective: ibuprofen or aspirin?

When it comes to the effectiveness of ibuprofen versus aspirin, neither one has a significant advantage. It all comes down to your body’s physiological response, and that’s something for which you can’t really account. The body does what it does. Luckily, both of them have proven consistently useful for treating pain and fever in the short term, which is exactly why they are so prevalent in the market. If you notice one has more success than the other, then identify the brand you prefer – such as Bayer or Ecotrin for aspirin; Advil or Motrin for ibuprofen – and stick with it. In other words, if it ain’t broke, you do not need to fix it. That said, there are instances where people should use caution when using NSAIDs like ibuprofen or aspirin, particularly pregnant women, or people with low kidney function.

If you are at all concerned about taking ibuprofen or aspirin, you can contact Pomona Valley Health Center to set up an appointment to talk with one of our expert physicians. They can advise which over-the-counter medication is safest and best for you. Contact us today.