Know Your Pain Killers

Paracetamol vs Ibuprofen 

We’re constantly bombarded with adverts about over-the-counter medicines and pain remedies, but it’s helpful to know what they do, and which are best for different conditions. Additionally, it’s good to know if you’re really getting value for money when you buy branded medicines.


Paracetamol (or acetaminophen) is a common remedy to treat pain and lower raised temperatures. It’s the active ingredient in many branded medicines including Calpol, Lemsip, and Panadol and probably works by inhibiting certain functions relating to pain and fever in the brain. Why did we say ‘probably’? Well, the simple answer (like many medicines) is that the exact way it works isn’t completely understood!

It’s worth noting that brand names are not necessarily better; as an example a well-known branded medicine for cold and flu costs around £3.50, yet simple paracetamol in the same store costs just 40 pence. Things like caffeine and sugar and other chemicals are added to the branded medicines, but the active ingredients remain the same.


Ibuprofen (or isobutylphenylpropionic acid) works in a different way to paracetamol; it is an NSAID (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug) and inhibits various enzymes in the brain responsible for regulating pain and temperature. Again, it’s the active ingredient in branded medicines such as Nurofen and Calprofen and once again, the standalone drug is substantially cheaper than the branded alternatives.

Which is best?

  • For any pain (excluding inflammatory type pains) and fever only, our recommendation would be to try paracetamol first
  • For pain involving strains and sprains, and any type of inflammation, Ibuprofen may work best
  • Both paracetamol and Ibuprofen can relieve fever

Can I take both at the same time?

In severe cases, where one type of pain relief isn’t working well, it is possible to alternate the two, since they work in different ways. However, we would only recommend this following medical advice, such as the 111 service or your pharmacy, and above all you must read the instructions to be sure you don’t accidently take too much!