Paracetamol vs Ibuprofen – which works best and when?

When it comes to managing pain and reducing fever, two commonly used over-the-counter medications are paracetamol and ibuprofen. Both medications have benefits and considerations, and understanding when to use them can help you make an informed decision. 

Paracetamol is branded as Panadol, Herron Paracetamol, Panamax, Chemist Own or Dymadon, plus there are generic brands as well. Nurofen is the most common brand name for ibuprofen, which is also sold under generic brand names.

So how do you know which one to choose and when? In this article, we will compare paracetamol and ibuprofen, exploring their effectiveness, recommended usage, and potential side effects.

What is Ibuprofen and how does it work?

Although ibuprofen and paracetamol serve a similar purpose (pain relief), their mechanisms of action differ slightly.

Ibuprofen is a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) that can relieve pain, reduce inflammation, and lower fever. It works by inhibiting the production of certain chemicals in the body that cause pain and inflammation. Ibuprofen is available in tablet and liquid forms and is often used for pain relief associated with headaches, menstrual cramps, and muscle aches.

What is Paracetamol and how does it work?

Paracetamol, known as acetaminophen, is a widely used pain reliever and fever reducer. It is commonly available in tablets, capsules, syrups, and dissolvable powders. It is often recommended for mild to moderate pain relief and fever reduction. 

The exact mechanism of paracetamol’s action is not yet fully understood. Similar to ibuprofen, it is believed to impede the activity of enzymes albeit through a distinct mechanism. There is also compelling evidence that paracetamol interacts with the brain’s endocannabinoid system in a manner that results in the suppression of pain perception.


Paracetamol primarily targets pain and fever, while ibuprofen has additional anti-inflammatory properties, making it more suitable for inflammation. Paracetamol may be sufficient for pain relief, such as headaches or toothaches. However, ibuprofen may relieve conditions like sprains, strains, or joint pain with inflammation.

A study published in the Australian Family Physician compared the efficacy of paracetamol and ibuprofen in managing acute musculoskeletal pain. The researchers concluded that both medications effectively reduced pain, but ibuprofen had a greater anti-inflammatory effect, making it more suitable for inflammation.

To provide a clearer comparison, here is a table summarizing the effectiveness of paracetamol and ibuprofen in different scenarios:










Menstrual Cramps

May provide mild relief


Musculoskeletal Pain


Effective, with a greater anti-inflammatory effect

Inflammatory Pain

May provide mild relief

Effective, with a stronger anti-inflammatory effect

Recommended usage

The recommended usage of paracetamol and ibuprofen depends on several factors, including the type and severity of the pain or fever, age, and individual health conditions. It is crucial to carefully read and follow the instructions provided on the packaging or consult a healthcare professional for appropriate dosing instructions.

The recommended maximum daily dose for adults is usually 4,000 milligrams for paracetamol, divided into regular intervals. It is essential to avoid exceeding this limit to prevent potential liver damage. For children, the dosage should be based on their weight and age, following the guidance of a healthcare professional.

On the other hand, Ibuprofen should be taken with food to minimize the risk of stomach irritation. The recommended dosage for adults is usually 200-400 milligrams every 4-6 hours, at most 1,200 milligrams in 24 hours. For children, the dosage is determined by weight and age, following the advice of a healthcare professional.

Potential side effects

Both paracetamol and ibuprofen are generally safe when used correctly but can cause side effects. Paracetamol, when taken in excessive doses, can lead to liver damage. Following the recommended dosage is crucial, avoiding combining paracetamol with other medications. Ibuprofen can cause stomach irritation, increased blood pressure, ulcers, or bleeding. Long-term or excessive use of ibuprofen can affect kidney function.

A study published by The University of Sydney highlighted the potential side effects of long-term paracetamol use. It emphasized the importance of using paracetamol within the recommended doses and avoiding prolonged use without medical supervision. Another study published in the National Library of Medicine discussed the gastrointestinal side effects of ibuprofen and suggested taking it with food to reduce the risk of stomach irritation.

Choosing between Paracetamol and Ibuprofen

When deciding between paracetamol and ibuprofen, consider the following factors:

  • Type of pain or condition: Ibuprofen may be more suitable if inflammation is involved. For general pain relief or fever reduction, paracetamol is often recommended.

  • Individual health conditions: People with liver problems or a history of ulcers should consult their healthcare professional before using either medication.

  • Age: Different dosing guidelines apply to adults and children, so it is essential to consider age when choosing the appropriate medication and dosage.

  • Interaction with other medications: If you are taking other medications, check with your healthcare professional to ensure no potential interactions.

In conclusion

Paracetamol and ibuprofen are widely used medications for pain relief and fever reduction. Paracetamol is effective for mild to moderate pain and fever, while ibuprofen offers additional anti-inflammatory properties. 

Choosing between the two depends on the type of pain, inflammation, individual health conditions, and age. To ensure safe and effective use, following the recommended dosages and consulting a healthcare professional when needed is crucial. Always read the packaging carefully and seek medical advice for concerns or questions. Of course, our pharmacists are always there to answer any questions you may have.

Opinions or facts expressed within the content have been sourced from various news sources. While every effort has been taken to source them accurately, the pharmacy, its owners, staff or other affiliates do not take any responsibility for errors in these sources. Patients should not rely on the facts or opinions in the content to manage their own health, and should seek the advice of an appropriate medical professional. Further, the opinions or facts in the content do not reflect the opinions and beliefs of the pharmacy, its owners, staff or other affiliates. 

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