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Are there any studies on the best over-the-counter painkillers? © Getty Images

Are there any studies on the best over-the-counter painkillers?

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Pain is a very personal experience, making it difficult to study, but ordinary ibuprofen and paracetamol seem to do the trick in most cases.

Asked by: Jerome Wright, Norwich


Experience of pain is highly subjective so it is difficult to say which are the best painkillers. Studies tend to focus on particular aches and pains. For example, an analysis by The Lancet of thousands of trials suggested that paracetamol doesn’t touch pain from osteoarthritis but a max dose of a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) called diclofenac does the job.

NSAIDs such as ibuprofen reduce inflammation and are best suited to muscular pain relief. The drugs block enzymes that produce hormone-like chemicals called prostaglandins, which promote inflammation, pain and fever. Meanwhile, paracetamol is most suited to headaches and reducing a high temperature.


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Dr Emma Davies is a science writer and editor with a PhD in food chemistry from the University of Leeds. She writes about all aspects of chemistry, from food and the environment to toxicology and regulatory science.


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