Acetaminophen Vs Ibuprofen: Which Is Better For Headaches

When you suffer from frequent headaches, you understand the debilitating effect it has on your overall health and productivity levels. It's difficult to complete even small tasks when your head is throbbing, which is why it's so important to find treatment methods that work for you. Various over-the-counter medications provide relief for common headaches, with two of the most popular options being acetaminophen and ibuprofen.

Acetaminophen is typically referred to by its brand name, Tylenol. This medication and ibuprofen are frequently used to treat tension headaches, though if you suffer from migraines or experience migraines with aura, you'll likely need to contact a doctor to discuss other treatment plans. For those who simply experience the occasional headache, both Tylenol and ibuprofen are effective in treating the pain, but ibuprofen is generally regarded as the more effective option, according to Very Well Health. Like acetaminophen, ibuprofen is commonly known by its brand name, Advil. 

Though both medications are good for treating headaches, acetaminophen and ibuprofen maintain key differences that can either help reduce your symptoms or have a negligible impact. 

Ibuprofen is more effective at treating headaches than acetaminophen

Since acetaminophen and ibuprofen essentially serve the same function, they're both effective at treating tension headaches, but ibuprofen saw a slight preference from participants in a previous study. Per Very Well Health, "In an older study published in the 'Journal of Clinical Pharmacology', over 450 individuals with tension headache were randomized to receive either 400 mg ibuprofen, 1,000 mg of Tylenol, or placebo. Results showed both were more effective than placebo in alleviating headache with ibuprofen most effective."

Researchers have conducted other studies but were unable to provide a definitive distinction between acetaminophen and ibuprofen in terms of effectiveness, as they both provide the same general benefits when taken in the proper dosage. If you feel as though neither option has helped you manage your headache pain, contact your healthcare provider to determine if a different treatment plan may be more successful.

If you're looking into other options, like Aspirin, be mindful of this drug's side effects — regardless of which brand you take — as this may cause more pain than it's resolving.

Be aware of the side effects of acetaminophen and ibuprofen

Acetaminophen may cause liver disease when taken in high doses, meaning you're going to do some serious damage to your liver if you take this medication more than prescribed. If you suffer from cardiovascular disease, ibuprofen may worsen your blood pressure; furthermore, it's been linked to peptic ulcer disease and bleeding, and kidney failure in some individuals (per Very Well Health).

Noticeable side effects indicating an adverse reaction to acetaminophen include cloudy or bloody urine, fever with or without chills, pain in your lower back, skin rash, hives, mouth sores, or unusual bleeding, per the Mayo Clinic. If you notice any of these conditions immediately after taking acetaminophen, call your doctor right away.

Ultimately, choosing between acetaminophen and ibuprofen is a personal choice, but either way, it's important to only take the recommended dosage for your headache to ensure that you're treating the discomfort without causing additional internal problems.