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Best Buy Drugs for pain

Last reviewed: February 2011
Celebrex ad of man walking with his dog
Discuss with your doctor whether the benefits outweigh the risks.

When muscle aches, headaches, and other moderate pain strikes, the best remedy might already be in your medicine cabinet. Common over-the-counter painkillers, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, and generic) and naproxen (Aleve and generic), are just as effective as prescription drugs in this class but cost much less.

But those medications—known as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)—can carry serious risks and aren’t for everyone. Prolonged use, especially at high doses, can lead to a heart attack or stroke. NSAIDs can also be tough on your body, causing stomach ulcers and gastrointestinal bleeding.

If you have had an ulcer or intestinal bleeding, acetaminophen (Tylenol and generic) is a good first choice for pain relief. Acetaminophen is not an NSAID. It is less likely to cause bleeding, but be careful: High doses can damage the liver and lead to liver failure; even taking just a little more than the recommended daily dosage can be toxic.

Acetaminophen or aspirin are good options to consider for those who have had a heart attack or stroke or who suffer from heart disease or uncontrolled high blood pressure.

For chronic pain sufferers whose only relief is routine use of an over-the-counter NSAID, it’s time to see a doctor. He or she can suggest better strategies to manage your pain.

In some cases, such as for patients with osteoarthritis, a prescription-strength NSAID might be necessary.

CR Best Buys

  • Ibuprofen
  • Naproxen

These inexpensive generics are available over-the-counter or by prescription.

Less impressive

  • Celebrex (celecoxib)

This is an expensive prescription drug that might pose greater risk of heart attack than naproxen.

Celebrex vs. Ibuprofen

For moderate pain, generic drugs such as ibuprofen and naproxen are your best bets. They could save you a bundle over some name-brand prescription options.

Brand-name or top-selling drug CR Best Buy Drug Monthly savings
Celebrex One 200-mg pill per day $139/month
Ibuprofen (generic) One 400-mg pill three times per day $4/month
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