shutterstock_70181035We all know the brand names Anacin, Advil, Aleve and Tylenol. But perhaps not much about what’s inside the bottle.

Each of the four brands have a different active ingredient.

Aspirin is the active ingredient in Anacin. It’s part of a class of drugs called NSA IDs. These are drugs that reduce inflammation and fever, as well as relieving mild to moderate aches and pains. All NSA IDs are blood thinners. Aspirin reduces clotting over a longer period of time than other NSA IDs.


  • Don’t give aspirin to a child or teenager. If they have a viral illness, like the flu, aspirin increases the risk of Reye Syndrome, which can be life-threatening.
  • Stop taking aspirin 5 days before any surgery.


Ibuprofen is the active ingredient in Advil. Aleve’s active ingredient is naproxen. Both are NSA IDs.


  • People who take ibuprofen or naproxen for a long time are at greater risk of kidney damage and having a heart attack or a stroke than people who do not take these drugs.
  • All NSA IDs can cause ulcers and other potentially serious intestinal tract problems. The risk may be higher for individuals who take NSA IDs for a long time and among individuals who take them after three or more alcoholic drinks.


Tylenol’s active ingredient is acetaminophen. Unlike NSA IDs, it does not treat inflammation, and is not a blood thinner.


  • Taking more than 4000 mg of acetaminophen per day can cause serious liver damage. Check all medications to be sure that you know whether they contain acetaminophen, sometimes labeled as APAP, A C, acetaminophn, acetaminoph, acetaminop, acetamin, or acetam.


Know Your Brands
NSAIDs (NonSteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs)


  • Anacin
  • Bayer


  • Advil
  • Motrin
  • Midol


  • Aleve

(Unlike NSAIDs, does not treat inflammation)

  • Tylenol


genericLook for generics. All four types of pain medications are available as generics, with the same active ingredients as the brands shown above.

Before you pop the cap on any medication, read the label. And talk with your NP about how you can reduce your risks of side-effects and drug interactions between over-the-counter pain medications and any prescription medications you are taking.