Medication Quick Search
My Medicine List Your Hospital Pharmacist Medication Tips and Tools

Can You Double Up on Pain Killers?

Gina RyanMy brother-in-law recently asked me if he could take Aleve (naproxen) and Motrin (ibuprofen, Advil) together. Apparently, he pulled a muscle while trying to relive the glory days of his college football playing.

When talking about painkillers, it’s important to understand the difference among products. There are four main types of oral analgesics that are available without a prescription: naproxen (brand name Aleve), ibuprofen (brand names Advil and Motrin), aspirin, and acetaminophen (brand name Tylenol).

Naproxen and ibuprofen work in the body the same and have the same side effects. Ibuprofen is typically taken every 6-8 hours; naproxen is taken every 12 hours. Aspirin works a little differently than ibuprofen and naproxen but has very similar side effects. The usual dose of aspirin is 500-1,000 mg every 4-6 hours. Acetaminophen works a little differently than naproxen and ibuprofen, has different side effects, and can be taken every 6-8 hours.

So, to answer my brother-in-law’s question… He could take his naproxen (Aleve) eight hours after taking ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) or he could take ibuprofen 12 hours after taking naproxen. However, if he was not getting adequate pain relief from ibuprofen within the eight-hour period, he could take acetaminophen (Tylenol). I advised him to stay within the recommended dosage for both medicines.

The bottom line for weekend warriors is that you cannot combine ibuprofen and naproxen unless it is time for another dose of either medication. If you need additional pain relief, you can combine aspirin, naproxen, or ibuprofen with acetaminophen. However, do not take aspirin, naproxen, or ibuprofen within 8-12 hours of each other. Also, watch out for pain medications that might be included in combination products such as those used for cough and cold.

It is important to note that my brother-in-law is healthy and has no other medical problems. If you have other medical conditions, please consult your pharmacist to find out which pain medications are safe for you.

Gina Ryan, PharmD, BPCS, CDE, Clinical Associate Professor, College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, Mercer University, Atlanta