You reach for your medicine cabinet and over-the-counter pain relievers for all kinds of reasons: headaches, muscle aches, backaches, arthritis, tooth pain, hangovers, etc. But do you know how to choose the best bottle for your malady?

Because Tylenol, Advil, Aspirin, and Aleve might all relieve pain, but they are each designed to interact with your body – and offer relief – in slightly different ways.

ACETAMINOPHEN (TYLENOL)

Best Uses: Headaches and muscle aches

Not So Much: Inflammation and joint pain

Acetaminophen words by encouraging the brain to stop sending pain signals, which is perfect for short-term issues like head and muscle aches.

Take care though, because taking too much acetaminophen or mixing it with alcohol can lead to liver damage, and even though it is over-the-counter, it’s also easy to overdose. Read your labels!

IBUPROFEN (ADVIL, MOTRIN)

Best Uses: Hangovers, menstrual cramps, sore muscles, sinus pain, earaches, toothaches

Not So Much: Headaches

The most versatile drug of the bunch, ibuprofen should be your go-to for most anything that ails you. It’s fast-acting and fast-fading, which means you should watch out for the risks and warning signs on the labels if you’re taking frequent doses.

ACETYLSALICYLIC ACID (ASPIRIN)

Best Uses: Reducing cardiovascular risk

Not So Much: Relieving intense pain

Aspirin works similarly to NSAIDs (Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) like ibuprofen and naproxen; it decreases your body’s production of enzymes that create pain-related chemicals. If taken daily, Aspirin can help lower the risk of heart attack or stroke for some people.

It can also be hard on the gut, liver, and kidney, so talk to your doctor to decide whether or not the benefits outweigh the risks in your case.

NAPROXEN (ALEVE)

Best Uses: Inflammation, hangover, lasting headaches, arthritis

Not So Much: Quick pain relief

Naproxen is best for chronic or lasting pain – it’s slow to kick in but lasts longer than the other options. It carries with it the same risks as other NSAIDs when it comes to prolonged use.

 

Taking too much of anything, or taking pain medication for a prolonged amount of time, shouldn’t be undertaken unless your doctor is involved in and agrees with that avenue of care.

Make sure you’re working with him or her to keep yourself pain-free and safe.