What's the best painkiller? © Getty Images

What’s the best painkiller?

In battle for the most effective pain relief, people often reach for the 'big three': paracetamol, ibuprofen, and aspirin. But what do experts recommend?

Asked by: Sam Foley, Basingstoke

Advertisement

When experiencing a bad headache or other acute pain, most people reach for tablets of the ‘big three’ over-the-counter painkillers: aspirin, paracetamol or ibuprofen. But which one works best? A recent study by a team led by Dr Andrew Moore of the Pain Research Unit at the Churchill Hospital, Oxford found that aspirin only works well in around 35-40 per cent of people, compared to 45 per cent of those taking paracetamol and 55 per cent for ibuprofen. The proportions for all these increase by around 5 to 10 percentage points if 100mg of caffeine are added. According to Dr Moore, the best results come from a combination of 500mg of paracetamol, 200mg of ibuprofen plus a strong cup of coffee. He cautions, however, that anyone with recurrent pain should see their GP.


Advertisement

Subscribe to BBC Focus magazine for fascinating new Q&As every month and follow @sciencefocusQA on Twitter for your daily dose of fun science facts.