WHAT ARE THEY AND HOW DO THEY WORK?
- Paracetamol, also known as acetaminophen, is a painkiller that belongs to the group of medicines known as analgesics. It reduces or completely prevents the production of prostaglandins – a pain and inflammation-causing chemical found throughout the body. However, paracetamol targets the prostaglandins found in the brain.
- Aspirin, acetylsalicylic acid, is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug. It contains salicylate, which is found in the bark of the willow tree – its use was first recorded around 400 BCE when people chewed willow bark to relieve pain and inflammation.
WHAT ARE THEY USED FOR?
- Paracetamol is used to ease mild to moderate pain, such as headaches, toothache, muscle and joint pains, and menstrual pain. It also reduces fever caused by the common cold and flu but, ‘It does not help for inflammation,’ points out Melody Dreyer, ward pharmacist at Mediclinic Bloemfontein.
- Aspirin is used to limit inflammation, reduce fever and to relieve mild to moderate pain, such as headaches, sprains and strains, toothaches, and menstrual pain. ‘In high doses, it can reduce symptoms of rheumatic fever or arthritis, and in low doses, it’s used to thin the blood,’ says Dreyer.
WHO SHOULD NOT TAKE THEM?
- Paracetamol: people with liver or kidney problems; those who have a history of long-term alcohol misuse; those who are very underweight; and anyone who has had an allergic reaction to it in the past. ‘In rare individuals who are fast metabolisers of drugs, levels of paracetamol may become toxic,’ Dreyer notes.
- Aspirin: those who have a history of peptic/gastric ulcers; those with any bleeding disorder; those who drink alcohol regularly; and anyone undergoing surgery. ‘It should also be avoided in the last trimester of pregnancy, in people over 65 years old who are already on another blood-thinning agent, and in children under 16 because of the increased risk of Reye’s syndrome,’ says Dreyer. Reye’s syndrome is a rare disorder that causes brain and liver damage. It can occur in children and teenagers recovering from a viral infection who have taken aspirin to treat symptoms like headaches.
DON’T TAKE THESE AT THE SAME TIME AS…
- Paracetamol: Other medications that contain paracetamol as an ingredient (some cold and flu remedies); other meds such as carbamazepine (used to treat epilepsy), imatinib and busulfan (used to treat certain types of cancer), ketoconazole (antifungal), lixisenatide (used to treat type 2 diabetes), metoclopramide (used to relieve nausea and vomiting), phenobarbital, phenytoin and primidone (used to control seizures), and warfarin (a blood thinner used to prevent clots).
- Aspirin: anti-inflammatory painkillers (diclofenac, ibuprofen, indomethacin, and naproxen), which can increase the risk of stomach bleeding; methotrexate (used in the treatment of cancer and some autoimmune diseases), which aspirin can make harder for the body to eliminate; some serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) antidepressants (citalopram, fluoxetine, paroxetine, venlafaxine, and sertraline), which can increase the risk of bleeding; and warfarin.