Acetaminophen vs. Naproxen Sodium

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Relief for your throbbing head or aching back may be just a pill or two away. Non-prescription acetaminophen and naproxen sodium are over-the-counter pain relievers found in pharmacies and convenience stores. Both work by blocking the production of the hormone-like chemicals known as on prostaglandins. Prostaglandins play a role in how your body transmits pain signals and in the processes that cause inflammation. These drugs may cause side effects serious enough to require immediate medical attention. Talk with your doctor before you take naproxen sodium or acetaminophen -- especially if you have liver disease, ulcers or are pregnant.

Naproxen Sodium Overview

Naproxen sodium is a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug, or NSAID, and is available in prescription and nonprescription forms. The naproxen sodium you can buy without a prescription is used to reduce fever and relieve pain, inflammation and the discomfort that may occur during menstrual cycles. NSAIDs work by inhibiting enzymes known as COX-1 and COX-2 that produce prostaglandins. The prostaglandins made by COX-1 and COX-2 are responsible for the formation of blood platelets, pain and inflammation. Naproxen sodium relieves pain and reduces inflammation by blocking COX-2. Physicians may prescribe naproxen sodium to treat the pain and inflammation of rheumatoid and juvenile arthritis, osteoarthritis and ankylosing spondylitis -- a disease that affects the bones and joints of the spine.

Naproxen Sodium Warnings

Naproxen's effect on prostaglandins is the source of its medicinal value and the source of its side effects. Naproxen also interferes with the prostaglandins that help protect the stomach from the acid it produces. This may result in ulcers in the stomach and small intestine. The researchers of a 2010 study published in the "British Medical Journal" found that naproxen sodium and other NSAIDs increased the risk of stroke and myocardial infarction. The study also reviewed previous research that suggested that there is a link between fatal and non-fatal cardiovascular disease and NSAIDs that specifically blocked the action of COX-2 enzyme. A September 2011 study published in the "Canadian Medical Association Journal" warned of a link between NSAIDs such as naproxen and spontaneous abortion. The authors found that NSAIDs -- including naproxen -- were associated with a 2.4-fold increase in spontaneous abortions. If you are pregnant, talk with your physician before taking naproxen or other NSAIDs.

Acetaminophen Overview

Like naproxen sodium, acetaminophen is a pain and fever reliever. Unlike naproxen, however, acetaminophen is not recommended to treat inflammation. Acetaminophen is available without prescription and can treat mild to moderate pain from headaches, muscle aches, arthritis, osteoarthritis, painful menstrual periods, backaches, toothaches, colds and fevers. There has been debate over how acetaminophen actually works. A 2008 study published in the journal "Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology" found that while acetaminophen did not affect COX-1 and the prostaglandins responsible for anti-platelet activity, it did inhibit COX-2, which is responsible for pain and inflammation. The authors also concluded that acetaminophen does have some anti-inflammatory activity as well.

Acetaminophen Warnings

Acetaminophen is found in prescription drugs and many non-prescription pain relievers, premenstrual tension treatments, sleep aids, sinus medications and cold and flu remedies. If you take several doses of more than one such product in the course of a day, you may unknowingly consume a large amount of acetaminophen. Too much acetaminophen can cause serious harm your liver. The signs of acetaminophen overdose may not appear for days. Early symptoms of acetaminophen overdose are similar to those of the flu -- nausea, vomiting and loss of appetite. To prevent acetaminophen overdose, read medicine labels carefully, and know what is in the products you are taking. Don't take more than one product containing acetaminophen at a time. If you drink alcohol or already have liver disease, be even more cautious and consult with your physician before taking products containing acetaminophen. If you think you have taken too much acetaminophen, immediately seek medical advice from your local poison control center or a doctor. Untreated, acetaminophen overdose may cause permanent liver damage or death.

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