(NEW YORK) -- Consumer Reports Health has released its "Best Buy Drugs" -- a 22-page report that compares the effectiveness, safety and price of some of the top brands (and generics) for pain killing.
The report focuses on non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), which commonly are used to treat pain associated with arthritis.
But NSAIDs are only one type of painkiller. Depending on the ache, another type might be better. And depending on the sufferer, some drugs can be dangerous.
ABC News asked pain experts to weigh in on what drugs to take for various aches and pains, and when to avoid the drugs.
The drug commonly referred to as aspirin has been around since 400 B.C., when people used salicin-containing willow tree bark to treat pain and inflammation.
"Aspirin was the 'original' headache medication," said Dr. Timothy Collins, assistant professor of medicine and neurology at Duke University Medical Center's Pain and Palliative Care Clinic.
But ASA's anti-inflammatory properties make it good for other types of pain, too, including muscle pain, joint pain from arthritis and toothaches. It's also relatively cheap. The drug is an NSAID that works by suppressing the production of prostaglandins -- hormone-like molecules that play an important role in inflammation. Unfortunately, the same molecules help to protect the stomach lining.
Another NSAID, ibuprofen, has pain relieving effects similar to those of acetylsalicylic acid. But it tends to work better even at a lower dose and have milder side effects.
"It is a very good anti-inflammatory medication, originally developed to treat arthritis," said Duke's Collins. "It also lowers fever, and helps with symptoms from the common cold."
The brand name version of ibuprofen is Advil. But only the generic form of ibuprofen was named a "best buy" NSAID by Consumer Reports Health.
A relative newcomer to the pharmacy shelves, naproxen (Aleve) only was approved by the Food and Drug Administration for over-the-counter use in 1994.
Naproxen is an NSAID with a pain-killing mechanism similar to that of ibuprofen. The drugs have comparable effects and side effects, so the choice comes down to personal preference.
"The anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen and naproxen are very good for the common muscle aches from 'overdoing it' (like at the gym or working in the yard) and also help with common arthritis pain," said Collins.
The drug known by most people as Tylenol is another mild pain reliever. It is not an NSAID, so it won't quell inflammation. However, it won't irritate the stomach, either.
"Acetaminophen is better for people who have stomach troubles," said Dr. Mike Schmitz, director of pediatric pain medicine at Arkansas Children's Hospital in Little Rock. "It has been a good drug for children as well."
The drug is good for treating aches and pains not related to injury or inflammation. But because it's metabolized in the liver, it can have serious side effects if taken at high doses or with alcohol.
Acetaminophen use should be avoided in people who have consumed alcohol or are dehydrated, or who have kidney or liver problems.
Over-the-counter medications designed to treat multiple symptoms often contain painkillers in combination with other drugs. Cold and flu medications often contain painkillers as well as decongestants. And menstrual pain relievers often provide diuretics, too.
When in doubt, ask a doctor or pharmacist for a recommendation or an explanation of a particular drug's ingredients. And during pregnancy, it's important to talk to a doctor before taking any over-the-counter medication.
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