Most of us are familiar with pain killers, and the chances are, we all have our go to. Some will chose paracetamol, some will choose ibuprofen.

Both these options are found in a massive range of products in pharmacies and supermarkets. They come in liquid, capsule and tablet form and range massively in price.

Some claim to target specific pain areas and others claim to be fast acting. But is there a "best" option?

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Dr Mary Joan MacLeod, a senior lecturer in clinical pharmacology at the University of Aberdeen has revealed what she would take when she is in pain, and why. Speaking to the BBC Sounds podcast, Sliced Bread, Dr MacLeod said: "Pain is the stimulation of the nerve endings, either due to swelling or the release of something called prostaglandins."

When it comes to choosing a capsule or tablet form of pain relief, Dr MacLeod said that essentially they will have the same dose, but a capsule can be absorbed a little bit quicker than a tablet can. For the latest health and Covid news, sign up to our newsletter here

Dr Andrew Moore also appeared on the podcast and explained that if a paracetamol is packaged with sodium bicarbonate, the paracetamol seems to be absorbed faster. Dr Moore also said that based on the research, caffeine can also aid with making the pain relief more effective.

However, overall, Dr Moore said paracetamol is not that good at reducing pain. Dr Moore said that based on the research, it is only really effective at reducing pain for around 30-40% of people.

Ibuprofen on the other hand, Dr Moore said "works extremely well", with about 60-70% of people getting effective pain relief with ibuprofen. Dr Moore also explained there is a difference between the more expensive fast acting ones, and standard ibuprofen due to the chemical compounds. He explained the ones that promise "fast acting" really do what they say on the packet.

What about aspirin? Dr Moore admitted it does work, but "not very much", he said around 25-30% of people get good pain relief from aspirin. So based on the research, ibuprofen is the most effective.

Concluding, what you should take and when, Dr Moore said: "Combination is one of the ways of getting good analgesia [pain relief], and there is a reason for this. If you take paracetamol and ibuprofen, what you see is the combination drug gives you the combination of efficacy. You are adding together the benefit you get from ibuprofen and the benefit that you get from paracetamol."

Dr Moore busted one myth that we are often sold: that different products can target different pain areas. He said this was not backed up by the science. When asked what he takes when he is in pain, Dr Moore said: "I take 200mg of fast acting ibuprofen, that's a lysine or the sodium, I take 500g of paracetamol, which is fairly fast acting anyway, with a coffee." Support award-winning journalism with WalesOnline’s Premium app on Apple or Android

The host also returned to Dr MacLeod who revealed: " Paracetamol is quite good for one off migraine, if someone is prone to recurrent headache, particularly if they get quite a severe headache with it, some of my neurology colleagues would advice taking three aspirin just as a one-off and that can be very effective at killing the headache.

"As far as joint pain is concerned, paracetamol works but its not that great, so for joint pain you are much better with ibuprofen." However she reminded chronic and ongoing pain should be discussed with a GP.

For period pain, she also suggested ibuprofen, but an unbranded one would be just as good. When asked what she would do if she had pain, Dr MacLeod said: "I would buy some of the cheap paracetamol and some of the cheap ibuprofen and take two paracetamol and two ibuprofen and hope that would deal with it."

According to the NHS, safe doses of pain killers discussed here, are:

  • The usual dose of paracetamol for adults is one or two 500mg tablets at a time up to four times in 24 hours with a maximum of eight tablets in 24 hours.
  • Aspirin usually comes as 300mg tablets. The usual dose is one or two tablets, taken every four to six hours.

  • The usual dose of ibuprofen for adults is one or two 200mg tablets or capsules three times a day