If your medicine cabinet is stocked with any kind of drug, it's likely some type of over-the-counter headache relief product such as Advil, Aleve, Excedrin or Tylenol – or maybe all of the above. While each claims to relieve throbbing pain that prevents you from focusing at work or enjoying time with your kids, pharmacists say some brands may be better suited for getting you back to your desk or feeling ready to chase toddlers in the park.
U.S. News, in partnership with Pharmacy Times, a monthly trade journal for pharmacists, surveyed hundreds of pharmacists to see which over-the-counter headache medications they recommend most often. The results, listed in the Pharmacy Times OTC Guide and U.S. News' Top Recommended Health Products list, indicate three frontrunners in the headache relief market.
Pharmacists rated Tylenol No. 1 in the headache products category with 27 percent of the vote, followed by Excedrin with 24 percent and Advil with 23 percent.
|Product Name||Percent of Pharmacists' Votes|
Zahid Bajwa, director of the Headache Institute at Boston PainCare Center and secretary of the American Academy of Pain Medicine, says it makes sense pharmacists recommend Tylenol most often since the drug has a "long record of safety." Tylenol has fewer harmful interactions with other medications, Bajwa says, and people have less risk of experiencing side effects compared to other headache relief products.
The Handbook of Nonprescription Drugs states that Tylenol "usually has no side effects." However, people with liver problems should be cautious when taking Tylenol, since its main ingredient is acetaminophen – also found in Excedrin – which can cause liver damage when consumed in large amounts. Meanwhile, over-the-counter headache products Advil and Motrin contain ibuprofen – an anti-inflammatory drug used to treat pain, fevers and swelling – which can cause stomach irritation, heartburn, dizziness, nausea and vomiting. Tylenol does not typically cause these side effects, according to Bajwa.
If you find yourself battling constant head pain, you're not alone. Read more about one of the most common forms of pain and health complaints in the United States:
How common are headaches? Seven in 10 people have at least one headache a year, and 45 million Americans suffer from chronic headaches, according to the American College of Physicians. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke reports that two out of three children will have a headache by age 15, and about nine in 10 adults will experience a headache sometime in their life.
Episodic vs. chronic headaches. About three in four headaches are spurred by tension in the scalp and neck muscles, according to the American College of Physicians. Headaches caused by tension are classified as episodic or chronic. The National Headache Foundation characterizes both types as a "dull, aching and non-pulsating pain" that can impact both sides of the head. An episodic headache may be triggered by temporary stress, anxiety or fatigue, while a chronic headache is a continuous headache in which the intensity of pain may fluctuate during a 24-hour period.