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Aspirin and ibuprofen: the main differences and which one to take



  • Aspirin and ibuprofen contain different active ingredients – while aspirin is made from salicylic acid, ibuprofen is made from propionic acid.
  • However, both aspirin and ibuprofen can be used to treat pain caused by inflammation or injury, headache, fever, arthritis, and menstrual pain.
  • People at risk for cardiovascular disease may want to avoid ibuprofen, as it may increase the risk of heart disease.
  • This article was medically evaluated by Jason R. McKnight, MD, MS, a family medicine doctor and assistant clinical professor at Texas A&M College of Medicine.
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If you have taken over-the-counter pain relievers before, you may have taken aspirin or ibuprofen. These are both very popular nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, that are commonly used to treat pain, inflammation, and fever.

They are common active ingredients in different branded products such as Advil and Motrin (ibuprofen) or Bayer and Ecotrin (aspirin). However, just because they are non-prescription, doesn’t mean they aren’t risk-free or safe for everyone to use.

Here’s what you need to know about the differences between both drugs.

Difference between aspirin and ibuprofen

While aspirin and ibuprofen are both NSAIDs, they are made from different main ingredients.

Aspirin is made from salicylic acid and ibuprofen is made from propionic acid. The difference between the two acids is due to their chemical structure, in particular the positions of carbon and oxygen.

Even though they have slight chemical differences, aspirin and ibuprofen work the same way. Both inhibit an enzyme called cyclooxygenase (also known as COX enzyme). In this way, they block the formation of prostaglandins, the chemical that causes the inflammatory response.

Medhat Mikhael, MD, said: “When we inhibit those prostaglandins, we inhibit the influx of pain-inducing inflammatory responses. ” Spinal Health Center at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California.

Also, the dosage of each drug is different. Aspirin usually has a dose of 325 milligrams, while ibuprofen usually has a dose of 200 milligrams. Both medications can be taken every 4 to 6 hours, as needed to relieve pain, fever or other medical conditions.

Which should you get?

Both aspirin and ibuprofen are suitable for short-term, days-long treatment of pain and inflammation. They should not be used for long – consistent over a few weeks or more – unless recommended by a doctor.

For some chronic pain conditions, Mikhael said, ibuprofen can be used long-term during flare-ups, as long as they “break” the dose and take a week or two off the medication. Ibuprofen is better suited than aspirin for long-term use in these situations.

Overall, Mikhael says both can be used to treat the same problems, including:

One of the differences, however, is that aspirin can be used long-term to prevent heart attacks and strokes, Mikhael said. However, this only happens when aspirin is taken in a much lower dose of 81 milligrams. This medication is commonly known as pediatric aspirin.

Your doctor may recommend daily aspirin for children if you are at high risk of a heart attack or stroke, such as if you have very high blood pressure or have had a heart attack before.

Side effects of aspirin and ibuprofen

As with most medicines, aspirin and ibuprofen are at risk of side effects, including serious ones. Some of the potential side effects include:

  • Stomachache
  • Indigestion or heartburn
  • Nausea
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Headache

Most often, Mikhael says that someone will experience stomach pain or heartburn, especially if they take the medicine on an empty stomach. This is an indication that you may have gastritis or an inflammation of the stomach lining. Aspirin is more likely to cause gastrointestinal side effects than ibuprofen.

Long-term high doses of aspirin or ibuprofen can lead to serious side effects like peptic ulcers (stomach or small intestinal ulcers) or kidney failure, says Mikhael. Your risk of peptic ulcers is higher when taking aspirin.

But unlike aspirin, ibuprofen can increase your risk of heart problems. This is why it is important to take the medicine as directed and only for the short term, not the long term, to avoid these serious side effects.

Some people may need to avoid taking aspirin and ibuprofen together if they have certain medical conditions. Mikhael said the following groups of people may want to avoid aspirin due to an increased risk of related side effects:

  • People at high risk of bleeding
  • People with a history of kidney problems
  • People with a history of peptic ulcer disease or severe gastritis

The following groups of people may want to avoid taking ibuprofen due to an increased risk of associated side effects:

  • Person with a personal or family history of cardiovascular disease
  • People with a history of kidney problems
  • People with a history of peptic ulcer disease or severe gastritis

Also, if you are pregnant, you should not use either medication, Instead, Mikhael recommends choosing acetaminophen (Tylenol) if you need pain relievers during pregnancy.

The bottom line

Whether you take aspirin or ibuprofen mainly depends on personal preference, as they are indicated for use for the same conditions and both are at risk of serious side effects. If you are unsure whether these NSAIDs are right for you, consult your doctor before taking either of these medications to be sure it is safe and always take it as directed.


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