This Is When You Should Take Aspirin Instead of Advil or Tylenol

Experts break down when you should reach for this OTC medication over others.

When it comes to treating our everyday aches and pains, we typically turn to whatever over-the-counter (OTC) pain reliever we have on hand. However, there are key differences when it comes to Tylenol, Advil, and aspirin, which have varying key ingredients that may be suitable for some people or situations, but not so great for others—potentially even putting your health at risk. Talking to experts, we found out when you should specifically be taking aspirin instead of Advil or Tylenol. Read on to find out when to take which, and for more tips for your tablets, If You're Swallowing Your Medication With This, Stop Immediately.

Aspirin is better for patients with a history of heart problems.

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Unlike Advil or Tylenol, aspirin works as a blood thinner, explains Puja Uppal, DO, a board-certified doctor in family medicine—and that's what makes it helpful for patients who have heart disease, especially after they experience a heart attack. "None of the other meds have anti-thrombotic effects," Uppal notes. "So, if your doctor has prescribed aspirin for your underlying cardiovascular condition, don't take Tylenol or Advil as replacements because these two don't have anti-clotting properties."

Andy Boysan, BPharm, the co-founder and superintendent pharmacist of The Independent Online Pharmacy, also warns that Advil in particular "can carry a higher risk of cardiovascular issues." So if you do have heart disease, you should particularly avoid Advil, "as it as it can exacerbate your condition, increasing or even causing high blood pressure," Boysan says. And for more on your heart, If You Can't Do This in 90 Seconds, Your Heart Is in Danger, Study Says.

Aspirin can be used as a pain reliever for people who cannot take Advil or Tylenol due to other conditions.

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Aspirin and Advil (whose active ingredient is ibuprofen) are both known as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). That means aspirin can be "used for general pain and fever," explains Jessica Nouhavandi, PharmD, lead pharmacist and founder of online pharmacy Honeybee Health.

So if you cannot take Tylenol or Advil for a certain reason, you can consider aspirin as an alternative way to treat pain, says David Beatty, MRCGP, a general practitioner with more 30 years of experience. Just like Advil isn't advisible for people with heart conditions, according to Beatty, those who have liver problems or who heavily consume alcohol should be careful with Tylenol, whose active ingredient is acetaminophen. He says these issues can "slow clearance of Tylenol from the body and liver function can be damaged further by this."

As for Advil, in addition to heart disease, those who are elderly and/or have "high blood pressure, clotting disorders, and kidney problems" should avoid this medication or use it cautiously, says Alexis Parcells, MD, board-certified plastic surgeon and owner of Parcells Plastic Surgery. And for more on which medication to take when, This Is When You Should Take Tylenol Instead of Advil, Doctors Say.

Aspirin has to be taken in higher doses to work as a pain reliever, which can have adverse effects.

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Nouhavandi says that aspirin has to be taken in higher doses to have "an anti-inflammatory effect and serve as a pain reliever," rather than the dosage used to prevent heart problems.

Unfortunately, this higher dosage can increase the risk of adverse reactions like bleeding, which is why it is "more common for people to take Advil or Tylenol for general pain and fever," Nouhavandi says. "Since aspirin has blood-thinning properties, it can increase the chance of bruising and bleeding, in addition to its other adverse reactions such as upset stomach, abdominal pain, rash, and headache." And for more up-to-date health news delivered right to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.

Children under the age of 16 need to be careful with aspirin.

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Boysan says that anyone under the age of 16 should not take aspirin because it increases the risk of a very rare disease called Reye's syndrome that affects children and early teens.

According to the Mayo Clinic, Reye's syndrome most commonly occurs in children and teenagers who are recovering from a viral infection like the flu or chickenpox. "Aspirin has been linked with Reye's syndrome, so use caution when giving aspirin to children or teenagers for fever or pain. Though aspirin is approved for use in children older than age 3, children and teenagers recovering from chickenpox or flu-like symptoms should never take aspirin," the experts at Mayo Clinic warn. According to Boysan, the condition "affects the brain and liver and can be fatal." And for more medication-related risks, If You Take These OTC Meds Every Day, You May Be at Risk of Hemorrhaging.

Kali Coleman
Kali is an assistant editor at Best Life. Read more
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