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What’s the difference between an anti-inflammatory and a painkiller?

Published on February 10, 2022 at 18:21 / Updated on February 11, 2022 at 14:06

You’ve had a bad fall, and you decide to go to the pharmacy to find some pain relief.

Once there, you’re faced with a large array of available medications, but you remember your family and friends’ kind advice: “You should take a painkiller!” or  “Anti-inflammatory medication is the solution!"

What's the difference between the two, and which is the right choice for you?

Defining pain and inflammation

What do we mean by pain?

Pain is an unpleasant sensation that we feel most of the time when there’s something wrong with a part of our body.

The nerve endings in the affected area send a signal to the brain to warn it of a problem, and then we feel the pain.

Pain can be caused by an injury or a health problem, vary in severity, and last for a short or longer period of time. Sometimes the pain can be described as “inflammatory.”

This is often the case after an injury.

What is inflammation?

Inflammation is an immune system response to stress or injury.

It helps the body send its available resources to repair damaged tissue, for example.

Inflammation is therefore an essential process for recovery! However, it can sometimes be excessive and cause symptoms like feeling a sensation of heat, redness, swelling, and pain.

These are the typical signs of inflammation, when an anti-inflammatory drug may be the right option.


The best-known over-the-counter painkiller is acetaminophen. It has long been used to treat different types of pain and has few side effects or interactions with other medications.

Most of the time, when the dosages are respected, acetaminophen is safe and can be very effective in treating your pain. There are still some contraindications such as in the case of liver disease. Ask your healthcare professional if this painkiller may be right for you.

Anti-inflammatory medication

When you think of an anti-inflammatory drug, ibuprofen may come to mind. Ibuprofen belongs to the class of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

These will prevent the body from producing its inflammatory cascade and can therefore be very effective in relieving the aforementioned symptoms.

On the other hand, anti-inflammatories can cause more side effects and interact with several drugs. They can, among other things, thin the blood, raise blood pressure, and irritate the stomach. They could therefore be contraindicated depending on your situation. Be sure to consult your healthcare professional before using them.

Other types of painkillers and anti-inflammatories are also available over-the-counter or by prescription and may be recommended to you by a healthcare professional, depending on your situation.

Which one do you use?

When inflammation is present (in the case of injuries such as sprains or tendonitis, dental problems, etc.), it may be worth using an anti-inflammatory.

The anti-inflammatory can thus calm the inflammation, in addition to reducing the pain.

When pain is present without inflammation, an anti-inflammatory may also be effective, but acetaminophen is recommended most of the time due to its reduced side effects.

Learn more about how to choose an over-the-counter pain reliever.

What if I have a fever?

When you experience a fever with a high temperature, an antipyretic medicine (which lowers the fever) is recommended.

Both acetaminophen and ibuprofen are antipyretic medications. Whether for a child or an adult, acetaminophen is often the first choice in case of fever, because it is effective for this indication and often safer.

Is it possible to combine a painkiller with an anti-inflammatory?

Depending on your condition, it may be possible to use both a painkiller and an anti-inflammatory.

However, you should consult your healthcare professional before using such a combination, to be sure that it is right for you and that you have the right dosage!

It should be noted that you should never combine two anti-inflammatories together. You risk increasing side effects, without getting better results for your symptoms.

Is a capsule more effective than a tablet?

As you may have seen on the shelves, several over-the-counter formulations are available. Most of the time, you’ll get the same result by taking a tablet or a capsule. The effect could be felt a few minutes earlier with the latter, but the difference is rarely significant. Pick the one you prefer!

Some long-acting formulations are also available. Care must be taken to use the correct suggested dosage!

Other pain medication formulations also contain muscle relaxants and may not be right for you. If in doubt, don’t hesitate to consult your healthcare professional.

What about the cause?

Whether your situation requires you to take a painkiller or an anti-inflammatory, remember that it’s always more prudent to check with your healthcare professional, based on your profile. Respect the dosages and only take these medications if you need them!

Lastly, these are good solutions to relieve your symptoms, but there are times when you may also need to treat the cause of your pain. You should always contact your healthcare professional if you’re experiencing persistent pain!

The drugs and pharmaceutical services featured on the website are offered by pharmacists who own the affiliated pharmacies at Familiprix. The information contained on the site is for informational purposes only and does not in any way replace the advice and advice of your pharmacist or any other health professional. Always consult a health professional before taking or discontinuing medication or making any other decision. Familiprix inc. and the proprietary pharmacists affiliated with Familiprix do not engage in any way by making this information available on this website.