Aspirin Vs. Acetaminophen: What’s The Difference?

A spilled glass aspirin bottleIs there really a difference between aspirin and acetaminophen?

Aspirin Basics

Aspirin is a medication that is commonly used to treat different types of mild pain, including headaches. When taken, aspirin is absorbed into the bloodstream and reacts with certain chemicals in the blood to reduce the substances in the body that are causing the pain. Because it also helps reduce inflammation and heat, aspirin is also useful in lowering fevers and to ease minor muscle aches. In the past few years, aspirin has also been shown effective as a part of the treatment regimen for heart disease because of its ability to thin the blood and allow it to flow more freely through the body. Unfortunately, aspirin does have side effects; it can cause upset stomach, heartburn, and indigestion, it’s generally not recommended for use in children, and shouldn’t be used in some patients who have bleeding disorders.

Acetaminophen Basics

Acetaminophen, on the other hand, is a medicine that works much like aspirin, but still has a few differences. It also lowers fevers and helps with headaches, like aspirin, but it does not treat the inflammation that can occur with muscle sprains or arthritis. However, acetaminophen is less irritating to the stomach than aspirin, and usually does not cause as many side effects in the digestive tract as aspirin does. Acetaminophen is safer for children and people with bleeding disorders as well. People should be cautioned however, that taking acetaminophen in high doses can damage the liver. Because it is found in many over-the-counter combination products, patients should be extra cautious to make sure that they are not taking above the daily recommended dose (4000 mg per day) without consulting their physician or pharmacist.

By Dr. Crystal Riley

A graduate of the Howard University School of Pharmacy, Dr. Crystal A. Riley has spent the majority of her career involved in drug information services for not only healthcare organizations and practitioners, but for patients as well. While her career has shifted towards researching healthcare policy and quality standards, Dr. Riley still actively seeks opportunities to keep patients informed and aware of medication-related issues to help improve their overall quality of life.