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Paracetamol vs. Ibuprofen: Understanding the Differences

What is the difference between over the counter medications paracetamol vs ibuprofen
Person selecting over the counter medication

Which is better for you, paracetamol or ibuprofen?

Is ibuprofen a stronger painkiller than Panadol?

Which is stronger Nurofen or ibuprofen?

Can I give paracetamol and ibuprofen together?

I have been asked these questions many times over the years so let’s explore each medication.

When it comes to managing pain, fever, and inflammation, two commonly used over-the-counter medications are paracetamol and ibuprofen. While they share similar purposes, they have distinct differences that are important to understand for safe and effective use. Let's explore the contrasts between these two popular drugs:

Active Ingredients:


It primarily works in the brain to reduce pain perception and lower fever. Paracetamol has limited anti-inflammatory properties, making it less effective in addressing inflammation.


It belongs to a class of medications called nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Ibuprofen is known for its potent anti-inflammatory, pain-relieving, and fever-reducing properties, making it effective for a wider range of conditions.

Mechanism of Action:


The exact mechanism of how paracetamol works is not fully understood, but it's believed to reduce the production of certain chemicals in the brain that transmit pain and fever signals. It does not directly target inflammation.


Ibuprofen works by inhibiting the production of prostaglandins, which are substances that promote pain, inflammation, and fever. This makes it effective for reducing all three symptoms.



Paracetamol is commonly used for mild to moderate pain relief and reducing fever. It's often recommended for headaches, toothaches, and fever associated with various illnesses.


Ibuprofen is more versatile. It is not only used for pain relief and fever reduction but is also highly effective in managing inflammation. It's frequently employed for conditions like arthritis, menstrual cramps, muscle aches, and injuries with swelling.

Side Effects and Risks:


While generally considered safe when used as directed, excessive or prolonged use of paracetamol can lead to liver damage. It's crucial to stick to recommended dosages and avoid combining it with alcohol.


Ibuprofen can cause gastrointestinal irritation, including stomach ulcers and bleeding, especially when used in high doses or over extended periods. It's advisable to take it with food to minimize stomach upset and to avoid using it if you have a history of stomach problems.



Paracetamol may be preferred for individuals who are sensitive to NSAIDs, have a history of stomach issues, or require pain relief without anti-inflammatory effects.


Ibuprofen is a better choice when inflammation is a significant part of the problem, such as in conditions like arthritis, and for those who can tolerate NSAIDs without adverse effects.

While paracetamol is generally milder and well-tolerated, ibuprofen's ability to target inflammation makes it a valuable option for conditions where swelling and pain are prominent.

Paracetamol and ibuprofen can be taken together for acute pain but not recommended for long term use.

Always follow dosing instructions and consult with a healthcare professional if you have concerns about which medication to use.

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