The Difference Between Advil, Tylenol, Aleve And Aspirin All Summed Up In One Chart

It can be overwhelming to figure out what medicine to take for different types of pain. You likely have multiple over-the-counter drugs sitting in your medicine cabinet right now. So it comes down to one question: Which medication will best treat the ailment you’re experiencing?

The folks at Business Insider put together a handy chart that provides some recommendations for selecting the appropriate drugs.

The data comes from U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, the Cleveland Clinic and Harvard Medical School.

harvard medical school photo
Flickr | See-ming Lee 李思明 SML


According to these sources, some drugs are more effective than others for treating specific problems. As an example, ibuprofen (Advil) can be more effective in reducing a fever while Aleve may be better put to use treating pain associated with osteoarthritis.

It’s important to note that many of the drugs will work for a variety of symptoms. The chart suggests which ones may be the most effective.

Also, if you have pain that lasts for more than a few days, please make sure to consult your doctor immediately. Based upon your medical history, you may want to avoid some of these medications. Again, be sure to check with your doctor.


One more note: Save yourself some money by buying the generic forms of these drugs. Matthew Gentzkow, an economist at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, did a study to see what type of drugs the experts (doctors and pharmacists) bought for themselves.

He found that 90 percent of pharmacists bought the generic form of drugs. If they are good enough for the experts, they are good enough for us.

pharmacist photo
Getty Images | William Thomas Cain

Based on this chart, it seems that the go-to painkiller for headaches is acetaminophen (like Tylenol), whereas the catch-all drug for other aches and pains is ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin).

The No. 1 recommended use for aspirin is not for relieving aches, pains or headaches but as a means of preventing a heart attack or stroke.

While we all have minor aches and pains sometimes, there are certain physical symptoms that should not be ignored, including:

1. Severe Head Pain

It may just be a normal headache or migraine, but an overly painful headache could be a sign of a stroke, tumor or blood clot, according to Harvard Health.

If you feel major changes in your severity of your headaches and start experiencing issues in your mental functions, you should go see a doctor.

headache photo

RELATED: These Medications Should Never Be Mixed With Alcohol

2. Irregular Bowel Movements

Occasional constipation is normal, but if you suddenly have major issues going to the bathroom, it may be a sign of a greater illness.

Irregular bowels can be a sign of irritable bowel syndrome, hypothyroidism, or even Parkinson’s disease. So if the problem persists, get checked out by your doctor.


3. Chest Pain

It very well could be heartburn or anxiety, but chest pain can also be a sign of a heart attack. For women especially, heart attack symptoms are much subtler than for men.

So if you experience any unusual pressure in your upper body, shortness of breath, dizziness or extreme fatigue, go to the doctor immediately.

human heart photo