Best painkillers: When to take paracetamol or ibuprofen – how they work to reduce pain

Painkillers are one of the most commonly taken over the counter drugs in the UK.

Every year the UK gets through a staggering 2.7 billion paracetamol capsules and 1.4 billion ibuprofen capsules.

High sales of pain relief correlate with pain being one of the most common health complaints experienced by Britons.

According to LloydsPharmacy, pain is one of the most searched for ailments online.

They also discovered that 36 per cent of their customers experience periodic pain.

But how exactly do painkillers work?

“There are different categories of pain killers, however most painkillers work to inhibit the pain receptors in the brain or the chemicals that are generated from a physiological change that causes pain,” explained Anshu Bhimbat, a pharmacist for LloydsPharmacy.

“For example, opioid painkillers such as codeine block pain receptors whereas paracetamol inhibits the chemicals released by an injury. 

“However, both types stop your brain from receiving chemicals that interpret the sensation of pain. 

“Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs - or NSAIDs - also inhibit the production of the chemical prostaglandin, which causes inflammation.”

Paracetamol and ibuprofen are perhaps the most well known painkillers.

The former is used for mild or moderate pain, such as headaches, toothache or sprains, according to the NHS.

Ibuprofen can be taken for similar discomfort, as well as for a fever, arthritis and swelling from a injury.

Some types of pain relief work better for different sorts of ailments.

Bhimbat added that it is important to seek advice from an expert on pain relief.

“If you do not know exactly which painkiller will work best for your symptoms, your local pharmacist will be able to provide advice and recommend the best options,” she advised.



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